Healing from a herniated disc?

Hypothetically, if one had a herniated disc pinching the S1 nerve root causing sciatica... and the pain fully goes away after a period of time ... what is happening in the body anatomically to explain that?

Could the nerve still be pinched, but you experience no pain?  Is the disc material dissolving or shrinking taking pressure off the nerve?  Is it inflammation going down?  Is it potentially all of the above? 

Just trying to understand and hold out hope that this pain could go away someday without surgurical intervention! 


  • I have the same thing happening at L4/L5. My MRI shows a large herniation. From research I've done, if you are not feeling pain or numbness the swelling in your back has gone down just enough that the herniation is not pressing on nerves. However, bending, twisting or lifting can easily make the pain return. If you are not having pain, the nerve is not being pinched, but the herniation is still there. 

    I've read that a herniated disc can SLOWLY correct itself but it can take up to a year to two years for it to completely go away. Most people can't, or don't want to wait, and get surgery. You may be able to have a microdisectomy, which would be out patient surgery, but I've read that even minor surgery on a disc will cause the disc to be weaker (thinner), and it could be re-injured in the future. 

    I recommend being really careful on the stretches or activities you do while healing. I've had two major pain episodes both caused by doing exercises (under care of chiropractor and physical therapist) that caused my herniation to get larger. 
  • catapamcatapam AustriaPosts: 189
    I agree with @KidBlue  I was proposed for surgery at 25 and I said no.
    the nerve was affected and I was not able to walk properly at that time.
    A lot of leg pain and stiffness 
    In time this improved and I regained my leg strength 
    Twelve years later the same happened but in my right leg.
    Then I did surgery and a large portion of the disk was fully broken sitting below S1 right nerve root 
    Anyhow it was an exercise that triggered the acute episode which lead to surgery 

    I have no trust in chiropractic and also I am very careful with PT professionals

    My spine is quite in bad shape not only lumbar but also dorsal and cervical.
    I am just trying  to avoid risks.
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  • Some of this was what I needed to hear but didn't want to hear.   I had an L4/L5 rupture 3 years ago and had a microdiscectomy in March 2014.  My issue was intense pain just above my right ankle and in my right hip.   I couldn't walk for more than a few minutes before I had to sit down.   Fortunately, sitting gave me complete and instant relief but not much of a quality of life.   After surgery, all my pain was gone immediately. 

    About a month ago, my disc apparently ruptured again and the same pain is back.    I was thinking about holding off on surgery to see if the pain goes away as some have suggested but the idea of waiting a year or more for that to occur is intolerable.  

    Back to the OP's question.....if it doesn't hurt, I'd say that was a good thing especially if you aren't suffering from any additional symptoms.
  • bryan868bbryan868 Posts: 24
    edited 01/23/2017 - 12:53 AM
    To clarify, this was a hypothetical question. I'm at week 12 from a L5 S1 herniated disc and if anything my pain has gotten worse after many weeks of conservative treatments (PT, injection).  I just wanted to better understand the healing process without surgery, since a microdiscectomy is what I'm currently facing and hope to avoid.  At times my pain is very intense, even with medication, and I don't know if I can put up with this for a year or more.
  • wajihwwajih torontoPosts: 48
    Hi Bryan
    The answer to all of your questions is yes to "all of above". Its not my opinion but based on research papers. Its difficult to explain the whole or multiple factors involved, in a short answer. I am in 15th month after a massive L5/S1 rupture 22.00 x 0.8 mm which has gone down to 10 x 0.5 mm  in a recent MRI. Unfortunately S1 root is still compressed but not as inflamed and swollen as it was before. Symptoms improved a lot while sitting or lying down but honestly for the last few months I have avoided any sort of exercise but just light walking no bending, lifting, twisting. I never had a huge neurological deficit other then numbness in toes and slightly weaker left leg but yes lot of pain all along the nerve pathway. I hope this helps. Please remember that I am not suggesting that what you should do but there are people who experienced relief with exercise. In my case all physio and exercises just made my pain worst. Good luck  
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  • bryan868bbryan868 Posts: 24
    edited 01/23/2017 - 1:02 AM
    Thanks @wajih that's a little encouraging!  PT seems to just make my pain worse as well. Mine is a large herniation too, 17mm x 9mm. Occassional numbness in my foot, but good strength still, though I worry about permanent nerve damage. Pain is almost unbearable sometimes!  My doc said he could start me on neurontin. Taking norco 5/325 now.
  • wajihwwajih torontoPosts: 48
    It really depends on how much neurological deficit you have. Any bowl, bladder issue would be a medical emergency. If you have the issue for last few weeks or months then surgery is not a bad option. Earlier is always better for a successfully  microdiscetomy. More you wait the prognosis start to decline towards unfavorable outcome. Problem with huge herniation is that there is not much cushion left and for only few percent  first surgery opens the flood gate and fusion becomes the destiny. Personally even though mentally I am totally destroyed I don't care about nerve damage. Since I have spent 15 months I would wait and see until  either I am on the bed or improve further. Please try everything for pain in terms of medicines what your doctor  suggests. There are many options among the the drugs, it would be hit and miss before you find out which one suits you.
  • catapamcatapam AustriaPosts: 189
    @wajih I quote you: "I have avoided any sort of exercise but just light walking no bending, lifting, twisting. "

    We are in the same boat. I just tried everything but my condition become worse and worse to the point that I was not able to walk.
    I was not able to lift from the chair at the office plus a lot of pain while sitting 
    I was on NSAIDS and other stuff.
    Surgeon gave me also Lyrica but I cannot comply with side effects 

    Anyhow at the point not being able to go to work I applied fully post surgery strategy, no bending, twisting, lifting 
    I am not bending even to wash my hands over the sink. I have a device to put my socks on and more...
    I am still doing some exercises without any movement of the spine
    Results is that I am off meds, taking only anti inflammatory supplements 
    I can now sit at the office with moderate to no pain
    I found a chair that give me constant back support 
    This is good thing. Bad could be that my mobility is gone. My back will probably fuse. I don't know.

    I still have bad days from a tiny unwanted movement in the spine
    I am trying to avoid them as much as I can

    I still walk 3 times per day for 10-15 minutes. I start with light walking but now I can walk faster.
    I can keep my spine fix (neutral position) during walking by braceing core muscles 

    Well this is my approach that shows improvement at least until now.
  • wajihwwajih torontoPosts: 48
    @catapam. I read your post and you are absolutely me at 2 or 3 months after the injury. This was all what  I did but then keeping myself straight  was causing my back to become too stiff. Since I am very tall person and brushing washing hands was a difficult task, I gradually started to bend slightly and flex knees to maintain a desirable height. I also improved my sitting on my toes skill to pick up stuff from floor. For some unknown reason sitting on toes also relieved my pain momentarily. I know for sure that sitting squat opens up the faucet joints but God knows what exactly is happening. Yes I still get flare up from some unknown movement but then I go for NSAID and things settle down in 3 to 4 days and then I stop. Walking at one pace helped me which is not fast or not too slow. I think you are doing all what I thought that I should do. Good luck and I hope you make a full recovery.
  • Hi all, new to this website. I felt like I needed to get on here to see if people are feeling how I am and it seems they are. We're all in pain.  I'm not sure if that's comforting or more depressing.
    I herniated discs L3 & L4 13 months ago. I was told it could take 1-1.5 years to heal. I've completed 9 months of PT then quit. I just had my second epidural and I think this one didn't do much either. I haven't had a pain free day in the 13 months. Sometimes I can't walk or move at all without extreme pain but that was mostly in the first 4 months. But I am not living "my life". I feel robbed. A year of chronic intense pain is torture. I have no radiating pain down my legs but in my lower back and into hips. I have never repeated my MRI to see what has changed. I think I'll request that. Next step might be surgery. I fear that's my only option. My PT exercises look like a joke to a healthy person, but if I complete them all I can't move the next day. So hard  to cope for this long without having long stretches of good days. Any advice welcome! 
  • Good day, I was diagnosed with L4-L5 and S1-L5 disc protrusion, at first I have only left leg stiffness starting from my left buttocks down to my calf, maybe thinking it was only pain from work or fatigue, but after some time there was tingling sensation every time I stand up from sitting or from lying in bed which alarmed me that something is wrong, I did went to the doctor after couple of weeks from the onset on pain and did X ray, I was told that maybe it was only muscle strain and he gave me Diclofenac for pain, some muscle relaxant, diclofenac Gel and Cyaconobalamin for tingling sensation, after 1 week pain was not like before, but after stopping diclofenac due to gastric irritation, pain would come up shooting again, like "a knife piercing the leg", I was referred to an orthopedic doctor  and did MRI and results came, he advised to start Lyrica, changed diclofenac to celecoxib and advised to start PT, Pain is always there, every day, especially standing up, and most of the time I would sit or lie down in bed to avoid pain or tingling sensation. The doctor also advised to loose some weight. I really want to be back in shape and be normal again, Its very difficult walking and dragging the other leg due to pain. Hoping for fast recovery for us all.
  • Hi! It’s been a few years since you have all posted, may I ask how you are all doing now? And if you were able to recover without surgery? Thanks!

  • bryan868bbryan868 Posts: 24
    edited 02/28/2020 - 10:04 AM

    Hi. I ended up having a microdiscectomy in March 2017.  It gave me instant pain relief.  Unfortunately a few months later during a PT session, I re-injured it.  I was so upset.  I felt my surgeon put me into PT too early in my recovery.  The re-herniation was on the opposite side, and much smaller of a protrusion than the original injury.  After 6 weeks or so, the pain was tolerable without medication.  I decided not to have surgery again. 

    Now, almost 3 years later, I have good days and bad days. I’m definitely not as physically active as I was before the original injury. I’ve gained a lot of weight, which I know is just going to make things worse in the future. So I’m trying to change that.

    A strange side effect of the surgery was I have a dull pain in my upper thighs when I lay down for an extended period of time. My surgeon doesn’t know why this happened and doesn’t think it’s related. But it started right after the surgery. Unfortunately that hasn’t gotten better over the 3 years.

    Anyway, I think the surgery was a good thing. I just couldn’t bear the pain any longer, even with heavy medication. So I’m glad I did it.  I just wish I hadn’t re-injured.

  • memerainboltmemerainbolt IndianaPosts: 4,169


    Thank you so much for coming back and posting your progress. It is information like this that new members are looking for.
    But I'm sorry you are having these same issues again. Losing weight is hard but is beneficial, especially in people that have spine issues.

    Take care and hope to hear from you again.
    Veritas Health Forum Moderator

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