How Long Does It Take an L5-S1 Bulging Disc To Heal?

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How Long Does It Take a Bulging Disc To Heal

If you suffer from a kind of electric shock and sharp pain in your lower back, you may have a bulging disc in your back.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a bulging disc, you can expect the disc to take roughly four weeks to heal. This initial time to heal will be followed by another twelve weeks of either chiropractic care, physical therapy, or some combination of both.

A disc is the cushion found between the different vertebrae that make up the spine. As we get older, our discs, like every other part of our bodies, suffer wear and tear. In the case of the disc, it tends to dry out and lose some of its elasticity. If too much pressure is applied to the disc, it may bulge out between two vertebrae.

What Is the Usual L5-S1 Disc Bulge Recovery Time?

The L5-S1 disc refers to the lowest disc in the spine that, basically, sits between the L5 vertebra and the sacrum. It is one of the more common locations for bulging discs and the even worse condition known as a herniated disc.

Like other bulging discs, an L5-S1 disc bulge can be treated with a number of noninvasive conservative treatment options including chiropractic care and physical therapy. Although none of these therapies are foolproof, chiropractors and physical therapists often recommend them to patients before the final resort of surgery.

The typical recovery time for an L5-S1 disc bulge ranges from four to six weeks or so. Of course, there are always outliers. Additionally, you don’t want to stop treatment too soon. Once the disc bulge heals, you should still expect to spend up to twelve weeks undergoing the recommended chiropractic and physical therapy treatments prescribed.

Of course, such time periods will be longer should the condition worsen from a bulging disc to a herniated disc. But that is to be expected.

Do Bulging Discs Ever Fully Heal?

The most effective means of treating a bulging disc is through surgery. However, surgery has a number of risks that other treatments like chiropractic care and physical therapy do not. Because of this, it is usually recommended by both chiropractors and surgeons alike that a patient should exhaust all the conservative therapies (like chiropractic care and physical therapy) before making the decision to go through with surgery.

Basically, you should not undergo surgery unless you absolutely have to.

For most cases of bulging disc, a treatment regimen of chiropractic care, physical therapy, or both is usually sufficient to treat the condition. When treating a bulging disc, a chiropractor can, through the use of regular spinal adjustments, potentially help return the mass of the disc bulge back into its proper place.

What are Herniated Discs?

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of ignoring a bulging disc and simply let it be, hoping it will get better by itself. Although it may be possible for the pain caused by a bulging disc to lessen over time on its own, there is also a distinct possibility that the problem gets worse, the disc ruptures, and it forms what is called a herniated disc.

In such instances, the internal jelly-like substance of the disc extrudes from its ruptured membrane and may impinge upon a spinal nerve. This will, likely, be very painful and take even longer to heal.

At this stage, the primary treatment goal is to manage the pain sufficiently so that the patient can enjoy a decent quality of life. With regular chiropractic care, the ruptured disc may heal and the body may reabsorb the extruded goo. But this takes time.

The Science of Chiropractors and Bulging Discs

If you have doubts about a chiropractor’s ability to heal a bulging disc, let alone a herniated disc, consider the following three case studies:

The National Library of Medicine presented a study of a 38-year-old male with lumbar disc herniation and radicular symptoms on his lower extremities. (1) He was treated with a spectrum of techniques ranging from chiropractic spinal manipulation, and modalities, to exercise rehabilitation. After 15 weeks of treatment, the patient reached biomechanical stability as desired.

Additionally, a study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (presented in Science Direct) described a 31-year-old man who presented with severe back pain as well as pain and other symptoms in the left leg. (2) An MRI revealed a large L5-S1 disk herniation. He was treated with multiple therapies including certain chiropractic techniques. He was discharged from treatment after 50 days and 20 visits. The case demonstrates the potential of multimodal approaches to treatment incorporating chiropractic care.

A study in Europe PMC discussed a 38-year-old female who presented with low back pain and other symptoms. (3) A CT identified disk herniations in the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels of the spine. Treatment consisted of chiropractic manipulation, electrical stimulation, exercise, nutrition advice, and a low back wellness class. Treatment was successful and eliminated all sciatic pain and most of the lower back pain.

As you can see, chiropractic care can be extremely helpful in dealing with both bulging discs and herniated discs, as well. When suffering from such issues, seeing the best chiropractor in Anchorage is a logical first step to dealing with the problem.

What Are the Symptoms of a Bulging/Herniated Disc?

The first symptom you might notice from a bulging disc, or, worse, a herniated disc, is usually physical pain in your back. Additionally, since the injury is in the spine, it is possible for the affected disc to contact one or more nerve channels passing through the spine. In such cases, the pain and symptoms may radiate to other parts of the body. Such symptoms may include:

  • Lower back pain.
  • Numbness in one leg
  • Worsening pain when you sit, stand, or stand up straight
  • A sharp, worsening pain when walking
  • Pain in the lower back that keeps you from staying in the same position for any reasonable length of time.
  • Weakness in one or the other or both leg muscles
  • A sensation of burning in the lower back.

Should you experience any of these, notify your chiropractor as soon as you can. He or she will be able to guide you through the next steps you should take.

Conclusion

As you can see, treating bulging and herniated discs through the use of noninvasive conservative therapies like chiropractic care and physical therapy is not only possible but recommended.

Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2647024/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0161475499701053
  3. https://europepmc.org/article/med/8345318
Dr. Brent Wells

About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Dr. Brent Wells is an actively practicing chiropractic physician that has personally led over 10,000 Alaskans to more active, pain-free lifestyles since 1998. He is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Anchorage and Juneau where he brings a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic care. Dr. Wells continues to further his education with ongoing studies in spine conditions, neurology, physical rehabilitation, biomechanics, occupational ergonomics, whiplash, and brain injury traumatology. He is also a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.

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