Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.
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Can Exercise Heal a Herniated Disc?

Wednesday, 17 Feb 2010 08:49 AM


Question: About a year ago, I developed severe pain in my leg and hip and a herniated disc was diagnosed by MRI. My doctor, a well respected neurosurgeon had me scheduled for surgery.

My wife read about a simple exercise that basically involved lying on the floor and stretching the legs. I tried it and in three days had no pain, and continue to be pain-free as long as I do the exercise. Is it possible the exercise has allowed the disc to heal, or is it just covering up the problem?

Dr. Hibberd's Answer:

Your exercise may indeed be aiding your recovery. Older wisdom used to recommend bed rest. Newer wisdom mobilizes you early, and often combines supervised physiotherapy to assist with a more rapid recovery. Rest assured you are not just covering up the problem. Perhaps you should allow the neurosurgeon to re-evaluate you to be sure your plan of action will proceed without a hitch!

Most patients with a prolapsed disc will recover without any surgical intervention. Remember that surgery includes minimally invasive laser procedure as well as the older procedures on the spine such as foraminotomy, laminectomy, and fusion of spinal vertebral bodies. Surgery is generally reserved for those at serious risk of permanent disability, spinal instability, nerve destruction, or spinal nerve loss or function.

Most surgical options are delayed for at least six weeks to allow treatment with conservative measures unless acute trauma or complicating circumstances arise. Healthy discs are a cartilaginous shelled tissue with a gel center. With a prolapsed disc, the gel bursts out of its shell and causes pain from compression against the spinal cord or its nerve roots. Sciatic complaints occur when this gel or the associated inflammation, press against nerve roots causing pain and occasionally loss of sensory and even motor function in severe cases.

Usually, surgery is not desirable. It is reserved for those few with failed conservative regimens, or for those with a traumatic injury or where conservative management is contraindicated and surgery is the only option available to preserve spinal cord or nerve function.

Congratulations on your recovery, and thank you for alerting others that surgery is not always the best option when we are dealing with disc disease.





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