Can I recover from a slipped disc?

What is a slipped disc?

Many people talk about a slipped disc to describe back pain and/or associated leg symptoms. Often the pain can be debilitating and the referred symptoms quite concerning, but there is a large and growing evidence base that clearly shows that most of these conditions can recovery without the need for surgery. The phrase ‘slipped disc’ subconsciously makes us think of spinal discs as fragile structures which can be worrying for many people. So from the outset, I would like to make my opinion based on the clinical anatomy and my postgraduate education very clear – discs do not slip! A spinal disc can be injured but a physiotherapist would describe this injury as a disc lesion – often a bulging, protruding or herniated disc.

What does a slipped disc mean?

A disc lesion can be a very painful condition as discs have their own unique nerve supply but a more significant lesion can press on the nerves that exit the spine producing nerve pain in the leg such as sciatica or odd symptoms such as numbness or pins and needles. A severe disc lesion can produce concerning symptoms such as muscle weakness or a loss of control of your bladder or bowel which is classed as a medical emergency. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or are concerned in any way do consult your GP or a physiotherapist as soon as possible.

Can a ‘slipped disc’ recover?

In a nut shell – yes! A recent scientific study looked at the ability of a herniated disc to reabsorb or recover. Physiotherapists have long known that spinal disc pain and referred symptoms can recover without surgery but the reabsorption phenomena was categorically proven by MRI and CT scans in 1990. This recent study published in 2017 compares lots of similar studies and concludes that 66% of herniated discs recover spontaneously.

slipped disc

Picture adapted from here.

What does the clever scientific stuff mean for you?

Essentially if you have lower back pain and/or symptoms travelling down your leg – there is hope! Even if you have had a scan to confirm a bulging or herniated disc – lots can be done to help your recovery without the need for surgery. 66% or 2 out of 3 of these conditions can recover spontaneously. There are certain symptoms where surgery is the best and safest option but a physiotherapist can advise you on this should you need it.

What can be done?

I am a little biased but hey, you are reading this on our website! Physiotherapists are best placed to offer you a timely consultation, have an excellent grasp of the anatomy involved and the current scientific literature and are skilled in a range of techniques to start and progress the treatment process.

This process starts with a holistic understanding of your condition, a detailed physical examination to deduce the source of your pain or symptoms and piecing together a management plan for your recovery. Here at The Physios, all our clinicians have at least 7 years’ experience treating conditions such as slipped or herniated discs and have trained to a high post-graduate level in a range of skills including ‘hands on’ treatments such as spinal manipulation. We also provide manageable and effective exercises including our ‘in house’ Pilates to continue your recovery. Your Physiotherapist will also liaise with your GP, consultant or insurer on your behalf.

Do check out our advice sheet on lower back pain and simple exercises to get you started.

Why not get in touch or indeed book online to see if one of our team could help you today!