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Old 08-26-2010, 10:58 AM   #1
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Herniated Disc- Does it ever fully heal?

I am a 24 year old male who herniated a disc in my lower back (L4-L5 region) about 14 months ago playing roller hockey. When it first happened I couldn't walk without a limp. The pain shot straight through my left glut and down my left leg.

A few months later, it healed to the point where I could walk without a limp and could participate in practically any physical activity without any pain. I resumed my recreational soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, running, elliptical, you name it. Until this day I can and do play all of these sports on a regular basis. However, all is not well with my disc.

When my disc "healed" it never healed 100%. It kept getting better and better until it plateaued at around 90%. Here are the movements that trigger intense pain down my leg:

-Bending over to touch my toes while keeping my legs straight
-While sitting, touching my chin to my neck

These movements are especially noticeable right when I wake up in the morning. It has been almost a year and this hasn't gone away. I am thankful that it has not hindered my ability to perform any physical challenge but a few questions linger in the back of my mind:

1. Will this ever heal 100%? Like I said, I'm very thankful that I'm not incapacitated in any way but I would like to know if there is anything that can be done to get it back to 100% or if I should just live with the 90%.

2. Could this potentially get worse if I keep playing the sports I play? I am a very active recreational athlete and, luckily, I am able to play all of them without any ensuing pain. Will I pay for this in the long run? Essentially, what is the worst that could happen?

3. Do I need surgery to fully correct this? Doctors have advised against this option, saying that I am young and it should heal on its own. Surgery often entails complications of scar tissue which could be disastrous in an area that sensitive. I would rather not go under the knife but may consider it if it means a return to normality.

4. Should I see a chiropractor? I have heard good and bad things about chiropractors. For one, their field of study is essentially a cult practice of medicine and doctors do not recommend it. However, I know specific patients who swear by them. Could a chiropractor even do anything in my case?

Back problems at this young of an age are scary but I have been lucky thus far. I know that it could have been a lot worse but I also know that pro athletes have recovered and returned to action from similar ailments. I would like to know how they did that and if that type of rehabilitation is available for me.

Thanks in advance for any and all answers.

 
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Old 08-26-2010, 03:44 PM   #2
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Re: Herniated Disc- Does it ever fully heal?

1. Will this ever heal 100%? Like I said, I'm very thankful that I'm not incapacitated in any way but I would like to know if there is anything that can be done to get it back to 100% or if I should just live with the 90%. When you herniate a disc it can never "heal" to be the way it was before the herniation. The disc is compromised and you have to depend on what your symptoms are to guide you in how much this is affecting your quality of life.

2. Could this potentially get worse if I keep playing the sports I play? I am a very active recreational athlete and, luckily, I am able to play all of them without any ensuing pain. Will I pay for this in the long run? Essentially, what is the worst that could happen? The best thing to do is get an MRI and full evaluation by an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon and/or Neurosurgeon. They don't only do surgery but can fully evaluate to see how bad the disc damage is and advise you what may help improve the symptoms and what may be best to maintain as little pain and damage as possible

3. Do I need surgery to fully correct this? Doctors have advised against this option, saying that I am young and it should heal on its own. Surgery often entails complications of scar tissue which could be disastrous in an area that sensitive. I would rather not go under the knife but may consider it if it means a return to normality.It depends. If you took everyone in the NYC subway today and made them all get MRI's there would be quite a few who have herniated discs but have no symptoms. So beyond the findings are what symptoms you have and how severe the symptoms are. In some people the herniated portion may not be impinging on the nerve or spinal cord, but in other people it can and thus be causing significant pain, weakness, numbness, etc.

4. Should I see a chiropractor? I have heard good and bad things about chiropractors. For one, their field of study is essentially a cult practice of medicine and doctors do not recommend it. However, I know specific patients who swear by them. Could a chiropractor even do anything in my case?Before seeing a Chiropractor get a full consult and examination by an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon and/or Neurosurgeon. Chiropractors do "adjustments" and if they adjust that level the wrong way or too much you could have more of an issue with more pain and other symptoms. If an OSS or NS agrees that chiropractic is an option then seek that out. If you do see a chiropractor you want him/her to want to take a look at your x-rays and MRI. When I first had neck symptoms I did go to a chiropractor for a few weeks. But once my MRI results were in he said that I was not a good candidate for further chiropractic care in that area of the neck and to see an OSS or NS.

Back problems at this young of an age are scary but I have been lucky thus far. I know that it could have been a lot worse but I also know that pro athletes have recovered and returned to action from similar ailments. I would like to know how they did that and if that type of rehabilitation is available for me.Pro athletes do have significant back (or other joint) problems and they fight through them. Sometimes they are given numbing medications to help them through practices and the games. There are quite a few that end up with surgeries in their 40's, 50's and beyond. Hulk Hogan had severe back pain and on his show they displayed his x-rays and it was easy to see the toll his profession had taken on his spine. He did have some surgery and he said he knows that he'll never be 100% but that's all part of the game when you are in pro sports or anything similar.
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Old 08-26-2010, 10:14 PM   #3
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Re: Herniated Disc- Does it ever fully heal?

Thank you so much for all the insight.

You sound very informed about the matter, are you a health professional or just someone with a lot of personal experience? I know that I eventually need to get a professional opinion about it but I would like to hear what others have to say first.

When it initially happened, my doctor told me that most of the disc should slide back into place and the remnants, the parts pinching the nerve, should dissolve since blood blow to that area will cease. Well, it's been a year and no improvement.

If I have to live the rest of my life with this pain, I can swallow that. I just want the assurance that, barring anything drastic, this is the worst it will get.

 
Old 08-26-2010, 10:35 PM   #4
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Re: Herniated Disc- Does it ever fully heal?

I've just learned a lot on my journey as a patient. It's true that the disc can shrink (dehydrate), yet this can cause other problems as the space between vertebrae is reduced. Disc or disc fragments can change position and sometimes this can cause symptoms to improve or worsen.

You could have the same damage, more damage, or just more nerve irritation or impingement and associated symptoms.

Tough to tell until you get new MRI and physician consultations and examinations.

Personally I prefer Orthopedic Spine Surgeons but both an OSS and Neurosurgeon would be appropriate.

Let me know if I can help in any way.
__________________
Rt&Lt thumb arthroplasty 2012 ; RT TKR & Bilat CTS 2011
Fusions: L5-S1 (87), L4-S1 (93), C5-C7 ('06), L3-S1 ('10)
C5-C7 foraminotomy 08

 
Old 09-11-2010, 08:22 PM   #5
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Re: Herniated Disc- Does it ever fully heal?

Quote:
Originally Posted by at2395 View Post
I am a 24 year old male who herniated a disc in my lower back (L4-L5 region) about 14 months ago playing roller hockey. When it first happened I couldn't walk without a limp. The pain shot straight through my left glut and down my left leg.

A few months later, it healed to the point where I could walk without a limp and could participate in practically any physical activity without any pain. I resumed my recreational soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, running, elliptical, you name it. Until this day I can and do play all of these sports on a regular basis. However, all is not well with my disc.

When my disc "healed" it never healed 100%. It kept getting better and better until it plateaued at around 90%. Here are the movements that trigger intense pain down my leg:

-Bending over to touch my toes while keeping my legs straight
-While sitting, touching my chin to my neck

These movements are especially noticeable right when I wake up in the morning. It has been almost a year and this hasn't gone away. I am thankful that it has not hindered my ability to perform any physical challenge but a few questions linger in the back of my mind:

1. Will this ever heal 100%? Like I said, I'm very thankful that I'm not incapacitated in any way but I would like to know if there is anything that can be done to get it back to 100% or if I should just live with the 90%.

2. Could this potentially get worse if I keep playing the sports I play? I am a very active recreational athlete and, luckily, I am able to play all of them without any ensuing pain. Will I pay for this in the long run? Essentially, what is the worst that could happen?

3. Do I need surgery to fully correct this? Doctors have advised against this option, saying that I am young and it should heal on its own. Surgery often entails complications of scar tissue which could be disastrous in an area that sensitive. I would rather not go under the knife but may consider it if it means a return to normality.

4. Should I see a chiropractor? I have heard good and bad things about chiropractors. For one, their field of study is essentially a cult practice of medicine and doctors do not recommend it. However, I know specific patients who swear by them. Could a chiropractor even do anything in my case?

Back problems at this young of an age are scary but I have been lucky thus far. I know that it could have been a lot worse but I also know that pro athletes have recovered and returned to action from similar ailments. I would like to know how they did that and if that type of rehabilitation is available for me.

Thanks in advance for any and all answers.
Hi,
I just wanted to reply about your comment about Chiropractors. I just wanted to correct you on a couple of things. While Chiropractors are not MD's or DO's, they are Doctors. They have the same training as medical students. It is an alternative to prescription drugs and surgery. It is probably not for everyone, since some people may be more comfortable with conventional methods, but Chiropractic has kept me from getting surgery.

Also, medical doctors are recommending Chiropractic Physicians more and more. Both my MD and DO have recommended Chiropractic Physicians. So what you are hearing about Chiropractors is very outdated. Contrary to what some people believe, most Chiropractic Physicians do know what they are doing, just like most MD's and DO's know what they are doing.
I have had 2 herniated disks (L4/L5, L5/S1) with annular tears. I have also suffered from Sciatica. I have had some flair-ups over the years but then I go to my Chiropractor and I feel so much better. I will try the Alternative way before I have to have anything invasive. For me, Chiropractic Physicians are the way to go.
I think a lot of times, Chiropractic Physicians aren't looked upon as "real" doctors. When in fact they are "real" doctors. But the key is to find a good Chiropractic Physician. Mine has sent me to have MRI's over the years, and also EMG's. At times he has called my family doctor to prescribe meds for me. That is the key...Find one that works with traditional medicine. Good luck to you. I hope you find some relief!!

 
Old 09-11-2010, 10:01 PM   #6
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Re: Herniated Disc- Does it ever fully heal?

I am sorry to hear of your back issues and like you say, at such a young age too

I am 36 now and ruptured my L4-L5 disc at the age of 20. I went through 6 weeks of PT and some electrical treatment (can't remember what it was called). My disc did improve without any surgery and I had very few problems with for 14 years. I would have occasional aches, but never anything to side line me. I was always very active, professional horse rider, snowboarding, biking, hiking etc.

About 2 years ago I started having problems with the same disc. Right now it has escalated to where I am needing medical help. The sciatic pain is horrible and I have been on a course of oral steroids, pain meds and NSAID's. I had my first steroid epidural this week and am hoping that we can remedy it without the need for surgery.

So, what I'm trying to say to you is that it is very possible that your disc will 'heal' on it's own to where you can live a very athletic lifestyle for many years. But you will always have a slightly higher chance of having it rupture again. Once a disc has been damaged it will always have a certain amount of weakness.

Keeping your core muscles in good shape is so very important to back/spine health. Also, always try to practice safe lifting techniques. Once I get the all clear to exercise again I plan of focusing on core strengthening. I have allowed my abdominal area to become a tad flabby in recent years and believe that I am paying the price now for not looking after my back.

 
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