Herniated Discs Don't Require Surgery

By Dean Moyer
Author of Rebuild Your Back

So there you are…

The results are back from that MRI you didn’t really want in the first place and the doctor is standing there telling you that you’ve got a couple of herniated discs… and he’s using words like ‘degenerative disc disease...’ and you’re thinking, “Oh my God, I’ve got a disease?”

And now he’s saying something else that you don’t quite get because all of a sudden you’ve got a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach and your head’s feeling a little light… but the word ‘surgery’ was in there somewhere... and you’re trying to pay attention while at the same time you’re slowly seeing your life slipping away…

So you take a deep breath and it’s, “Okay, I can handle this...” but as the realization hits you, that feeling in the pit of your stomach turns into fear and fear turns into despair and despair gives way to depression and… Hey, hold on a minute!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. (Okay, it’s not really a secret… but it’s not exactly common knowledge, either.)

Where was I?

Oh yeah… guess what?

Herniated discs just go away.

That’s right, I kid you not. I’ve got scientific proof straight from the big boys themselves that herniated discs -– if treated properly -– will not only heal on their own, but will shrink back up and totally disappear about 90 percent of the time.

Study Shows Herniated Discs Do Heal

In a previous article we saw a number of clinical studies that indicated that herniated discs were not the major cause of pain we once thought they were. [1] And, while that’s great news, it still doesn’t dismiss the fact that we need to do something about them. After all, just because they may not be painful, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a degenerative condition.

Fortunately, there have been a number of major breakthroughs along those lines starting a few years back when two doctors set out to test a theory. A theory that is very near and dear to us here at Rebuild Your Back as you’ll see in a moment.

They decided to test their theory on 24 consecutive patients with cervical disc herniations. All the patients were diagnosed via MRI to have disc herniations greater than 4mm. All complained of arm pain and “the majority had neurological deficits,” which means there was serious nerve impingement and they were experiencing things like numbness and tingling in their arms, hands and shoulders.

What Was different About This Study

What makes this study particularly interesting for us is that the doctors decided to treat their patients with exercise instead of surgery. Which is pretty surprising when you consider that, based on their symptoms, these patients were prime surgical candidates.

I don’t think I can overstress that point. These were not just people with ordinary neck pain and minor disc bulges. This study was conducted on people who fell into the one to two percent range for whom surgery would typically be recommended. Which makes the results that much more exciting when we learn that “22 of the 24 had good or excellent outcomes” and “19 of 22 returned to work at the same job.” [2]

Only 2 of the participants actually had to have surgery, which seems to indicate that perhaps even from within the small percentage of people for whom surgery “might be beneficial” only a tiny fraction of those surgical procedures are actually necessary. [2]

Herniated Discs Simply Go Away

Many more studies involving exercise have since been conducted including several where they took people with herniated discs and checked them at six month intervals and they found that - If treated properly – the herniated discs actually healed on their own and shrank back to normal.

Here are a few related quotes that I think you’ll find interesting:

In other recent studies, sequential MRI scans done at six month intervals have shown that disc herniations more often than not are resorbed by the body. The studies found that larger disc herniations DO NOT correlate with a poor prognosis. They go away. As Ian McNab, MD said of disc herniations… “90% of patients will get better and stay better with conservative care.” [3]
I have personally seen more than 5,000 people with low back pain. And a huge percentage of these people had already been diagnosed as having irreversible disk damage, ruptured disk, degenerative disk disease and more. Yet somehow, almost all of them seem to recover without the supposedly needed surgery. [4]
The decision to do surgery is based primarily on the physical exam, not the MRI or CT scan. In fact, some of the worst looking disc herniations on scans produce very little and sometimes no symptoms at all... Furthermore, large disc herniations often shrink and totally disappear on scans reflecting the body's ability to heal. [5]
In summary, when faced with a disc herniation… Don’t panic. As long as neurological deficits are not deteriorating, observation is warranted… Consider exercise a treatment for acute disc syndrome. Most patients get well on their own and many disc herniations disappear. [3]
There is a lot of information here to digest. And it may conflict with what many doctors consider to be proper treatment for disc herniations. But such information cannot be ignored. Given the costs and potential complications from what in many cases may be unnecessary surgical intervention, caution is certainly indicated. [3]

In light of these discoveries the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons now recommends that you wait at least three to six months before deciding to have surgery unless there is a progressive neurological deficit.

And even the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research in their publication, Guidelines for Acute Back Pain has specifically stated that “the body heals itself” and they recommend that you “not rush into the surgical pathway.”

No Reason To Worry

So you see, there is no reason to become anxious or depressed simply because your doctor has discovered a herniated disc in your back or neck. And there’s certainly no reason to assume that your life is over just because you’ve developed a few bulging discs.

Many of the top medical experts in the country are convinced that herniated discs have little to do with back pain and - as we’ve seen - they now know for a fact that discs do heal and that they will disappear if given proper treatment.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be concerned about degenerating discs, but only that you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that a herniated disc is directly causing your back or neck pain. And whatever you do, don’t rush into surgery because of something that shows up on an MRI or CT scan.

The smart thing to do is to get started rebuilding your back or neck as soon as possible and just take care of the matter. A strong, healthy spine is well within your reach. It’s not that difficult… it costs virtually nothing… and the rewards are priceless.

Try rebuilding first,

About the Author

Dean Moyer is the author of the books, Rebuild Your Back, Rebuild Your Neck and The Pain Relief Manual. Copies of his books are available exclusively through this website. Read more...

Rebuild Your Back
Rebuild Your Back
Second Edition
Rebuild Your Neck
Rebuild Your Neck
The Pain Relief Manual
The Pain Relief Manual


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Last updated: July 10, 2006