Can a herniated or “slipped” disc heal?

A herniated or “slipped” disc can cause a tremendous amount of pain. I’ve spent the last 13 years working with patients who had severe pain from a herniated or bulging disc.

Often, I will work with patients after 3 or 4 failed back or neck surgeries. The one thing that they all have in common is that they come to me because the injections, therapy, radio-frequency nerve root ablation, spinal cord simulator and back surgeries either didn’t work or left them with worse pain.

Common patterns that herniated and bulging disc patients tell me is that they can’t stand for very long without pain. Some of them will have pain while sitting and lying down as well. Others will say that they will get relief if they get in a recliner and bend their knees.

Often, disc patients will tell me how walking any distance will cause them a great deal of pain. They will say that they have to go find a place to sit to get any relief at all. Others (who have advanced arthritis) will have pain while sitting as well.

They also tell me how they used to have one or two “flare ups” per year and that they used to think that their pain was bad. Then, they say that they started having more flare ups and with those episodes, the pain got worse.

By the time patients drive from hours away or fly in to see me, they usually have severe, debilitating pain that won’t go away no matter what they do. Sometimes they are moving into states of possible nerve damage such as muscle atrophy or foot drop.

My patient’s stories are similar. They are usually able to do less work, yardwork, unable to go to church or to their grandkids events such as ball games, etc… What brings them to me is loss of quality of life.

I’ve heard my patients say it many times: You can die with a million dollars in the bank but if you don’t have your health, what good is it?
The special part of my disc rehydration protocol is that most patients do quite well, get longevity from the treatments and get much improved quality of life. Just yesterday, a female patient Tommie, gave me the sweetest hug and told me, “Dr. Currie, you give us all our lives back”.

It was special for me because other patients were smiling and nodding their heads, yes. I’m very blessed to get to be a part of people’s lives in this way. I still get goosebumps when a patient tells me how my program has improved their life.

I work hard. Not physically, but mentally. My patients are all different with similar problems but not one patient is the same that came before them. I have to figure out what path to take with each patient and it isn’t always easy.

I take my job very seriously because I know what is on the line if we don’t get the results. In the end, all that matters are results. My patients have every faith that I will go the extra mile for them in my efforts to help them get back to a more normal life instead of suffering a life of pain and misery.

I have patients that I treated over 12 years ago that are still doing great today. These are patients who got their lives back and have never had to come back to me for follow up care or any care whatsoever. So, I would say that it is possible for a bulging or herniated disc to heal and repair.

I think that there are some very important points that have to be discussed here. I will begin with the anatomy of a spinal disc.

Spinal discs have a “jelly” filled center called the nucleus pulposis. The word nucleus stands for the center of something. In cells, the nucleus is where the DNA is found.

In discs, the nucleus pulposis should be nice and plump. It should be juicy and provide a good amount of cushion in the disc for support and shock absorption of the vertebra (the bones in the spine).

As people age the nucleus pulposis can literally dry up. It’s a form of dehydration. What happens to a nice, plump, juicy grape that gets left in the sun too long? The grape dries up and gets flat.

When the center of the gets dehydrated, the disc itself will begin to flatten. It takes time, but as time goes on, the disc will lose its height and the bones in the spine will get closer together.

I can’t even begin to explain how many patients I have successfully treated who were told that they didn’t have a disc left and that they were “bone on bone”.

“Bone on bone” doesn’t mean that there isn’t a disc left to hydrate. Bone on bone means that there is a severe amount of degeneration but it doesn’t mean that there is no hope.

As a disc loses water and becomes dehydrated, the annular fibers can become weak and tear. Torn annular fibers are what allow a bulge or herniation to take place.

Often patients will explain how their pain began after a trauma, fall, or accident. Yes, a trauma, can cause a herniated or bulging disc. But, what about something simple like a sneeze or picking up a piece of paper off of the floor?

The annular rings inside of a disc look like the age rings on a tree. The annular rings don’t handle “shear” forces very well. Twisting motions put shear forces into the disc which can cause the annular rings to tear.

Once the annular rings tear, it can allow the nucleus pulposis to “leak” out and “pinch” a nerve in the neck or low back.

Pinched nerves in the neck can cause brachial plexus symptoms such as carpal tunnel syndrome, etc… Nerve pressure in the neck can also cause sleep disturbances, neck pain, severe headaches, trigeminal neuralgia, cervicogenic vertigo, resting tremors, and pain into the upper back muscles, pain in shoulder blade area, and neuropathy in the hands.

Pinched nerves in the low back can cause sciatica, buttock pain, hip pain, groin pain, lower abdominal pain, testicular pain, gastroparesis, calf pain, muscle cramping, pain in the hamstrings, knee pain, and lower leg and foot pain and neuropathy in the lower legs and feet.

So the big question of this article is, “Can a herniated disc heal?” I would say that on its own, it’s a roll of the dice. Yes, all tissues in the body can heal and repair. A herniation however, can leak out so much “jelly” from the nucleus pulposis that it may not reabsorb.

This would explain why some people will have the occasional flare up once or twice a year and how their pain and dysfunction gets more frequent and severe over time. The ‘jelly” can move around. One month, it may not be on the nerve and the next month it could be all over the nerve and cause tremendous pain.

I’ve had so many patients explain, “Dr. Currie, my MRI shows that I have a mild amount of degenerative disc disease or a mild bulge or herniated disc. My pain is not mild. It’s severe!

I would say that the most important factor is the real estate that the bad disc is taking up within the spine and spinal column. If the disc is sitting on top of the nerve, the pain can be severe. If the disc is close to the nerve but not touching it, it cause mild to no pain at all.

The real problem with these situations is that from one year to the next, the degenerative disc disease just keeps progressing and getting worse. This is why it is critical to do everything in your power to get on top of the situation and do something about it before it becomes a “permanent” situation.

I always say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Why wait to start experiencing foot drop, muscle atrophy, paralysis, loss of bladder and bowel function, or get so much weakness in your legs that you start falling, etc…

If you are having signs of a bulging or herniated disc or degenerative disc disease, take action. Hopefully, you chose to come to me so that I can work with you doing natural and non-invasive disc rehydration treatments and Class IV Deep Tissue Laser to try to get you back to living life on your own terms again as quickly as possible.

My disc rehydration protocols consist of getting fluid to go back into the disc spaces which takes pressure off of the nerves. By getting hydration of a disc, a small amount of space can be restored to the disc spaces. All you need to get relief is a microscopic amount of space.

All nerves understand is pressure. By taking pressure off of the nerves, they can “relax” and start to send less pain signals. Less pain signals can lead to dramatic improvements in quality of life and function.

Health is Happiness,

Dr. Keith Currie

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"When I came here, I had severe neck pain and no range of mobility. I couldn’t turn my head left to right, and had shooting arm pain down my left arm. I came to see Dr. Currie to see if he could help me with that pain. Since my treatments were completed, everything has been great. I have had no problems whatsoever since I came through the treatments. I have great range of motion. I’ve been able to do everything I was doing before I had the problem and life’s been great."

by - Kevin