A herniated disc can heal after two years. It’s important to note that although the imaging may still show that you have a herniation or disc bulge, symptoms can still improve.

From clients I have seen, if it’s a large disc herniation, oftentimes it can take 6 months for symptoms to come completely under control. Sometimes it can take longer than this but it all depends on the person.

In this article we’ll discuss whether a disc herniation can be permanent when you should consider surgery, what symptoms are common, and whether or not an MRI can show if the disc has healed or not.

Before we dive in, here’s a fun fact; you can’t feel a disc herniation through the skin, with your hand.

Will A Herniated disc heal after 2 years?

It is possible that the herniation will be resorbed after two years. However, it’s also possible that it will not be resorbed but the symptoms will reduce and get better.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to have a disc herniation or disc bulge without severe pain, or any pain at all.

What’s most important when determining if you need surgery or physical therapy is what your symptoms are which we will discuss in the next section.

When should you consider surgery for a herniated disc?

Consider surgery for a herniated disc if you’re having severe leg pain, numbness, tingling, and leg weakness that’s getting worse. Additionally, if you are experiencing bowel and bladder changes this is also an indication that you need to see your doctor and/or surgeon.

If you aren’t having any progressive neurological (nerve) symptoms, then starting a physical therapy program is the best option.

Your physical therapist will be able to create a program that helps to ease symptoms and will likely be a combination of exercise, manual therapy (as appropriate), heat/ice to modify symptoms, and a review of any medication you are taking that your physician prescribed.

Can Herniated discs be permanent?

Yes, it is possible that the symptoms related to a herniated disc can be permanent if you don’t take care of them. This is why it’s important to make sure to address this issue with your physician and physical therapist to ensure that you are doing the correct things for your specific symptoms.

Symptoms will be different in severity and type for each person so it’s important to get an evaluation from a professional.

What symptoms are common with a herniated disc?

With a true herniated disc, the most common symptoms are numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain down one leg or both. Leg pain is a common experience with disc herniations, and depending on which level the disc is herniated at you can have symptoms down the back, front, side, or inside of the thigh.

Depending on the severity, symptoms can go down to the buttock, the thigh, the knee, or even all the way down to the ankle.

If you are only having pain in your low back it’s unlikely that it’s a herniated disc, or, it is a mild one.

Does a herniated disc need to resorb in order for symptoms to improve?

No, the disc does not need to resorb in order for symptoms to impove. Similarly to rotator cuff tears, meniscal tears, and labral tears, it is possible to have an MRI confirmed disc herniation with little to no pain.

Does a herniated disc cause sciatica?

Yes, a herniated disc can cause sciatica. As discussed above, some common symptoms are numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain.

Can an MRI show a healed herniated disc?

MRI for herniated disc
Magnetic resonance imaging in Hospital. Medical Equipment and Health Care.

Yes, if you did receive another MRI many months later it’s possible it would show that the herniation is gone.

But, remember, you don’t necessarily need the disc to heal in order for symptoms to improve. Often times conservative treatment (physical therapy, etc.)

Here are the American academy of family physician’s low back pain imaging recommendations.

Can a herniated disc cause permanent nerve damage?

It’s possible for a disc herniation to cause permanent nerve damage however it is unlikely as long as you address any red flags symptoms as discussed above.

If you are wondering how to start rehabbing your own disc, check out this article (coming soon) I wrote on how to find the best exercises for you if you’re having symptoms related to a herniated disc but want to use conservative treatment. 

If you want to determine which stretches are best (in a step by step fashion), you can also check out this article.