What I’ve Learned About Sciatica and Herniated Discs – Part II

This is part two of a series about healing injured discs. Last time we emphasized how important it is to get a good diagnosis and imaging. But what exactly did I do to heal my disc and avoid surgery and injections? I’m not gonna say it was easy. I did say that I changed my life for a year, and then some. But now my own body has done such a good job of healing that I’m almost back to normal and I’m stronger and less likely to have more problems. No complications like permanently damaged nerves, or immobilization problems in the future. I want to emphasize that it’s worth it.

Let’s split things up into the short term, and the long term. As soon as you know you have an injured disc, it’s important to slow down. You will have to alter your work and/or home life so that you don’t overdo it and you have to lie down some throughout the day. Your disc needs time to heal, and time when there is little to no pressure on it.

At the same time, it is important to also keep walking and stretching. In the past, medical professionals thought we needed to lie still most of the time when a disc was injured. Now we know that people get better faster if they keep walking some. Walking helps promote circulation to the area so it can heal, helps the body drain fluids from a ruptured disc or from inflammation that may be irritating nerves, and helps keep muscles looser so they do not impinge the nerve.

One of the worst things for your disc is sitting. Sitting puts the most pressure at the disc. Interestingly, standing or walking reduces the pressure since the spine is kind of hanging there between the hips. Somehow, 30 minutes seems to be the limit before flare ups are caused, so no sitting longer than 30 minutes.

Acupuncture is also a very important part of the process. I normally get acupuncture regularly anyway, but as soon as I knew I had an injured disc, I began getting acupuncture two times per week. Acupuncture is one of the best treatments for discs for both pain relief and to promote healing. In a disc injury case, it may not take your pain away in one session, but over time, pain relief will build, although we are always fighting against the pressure we are always putting on discs. So for the first 3-6 months, it’s always very up and down with discs no matter what you do — be patient.

I recommend the following schedule:

  1. rest in what’s called 90-90 (see photo) or neutral position 10-30 minutes 3-6x/day

  2. In between – NO SITTING LONGER THAN 30 MINUTES. Walk, stand, stretch.

  3. Walk at least 10 minutes 3x/day. Walking for 30-60 minutes for one of those sessions is highly beneficial, but no longer. Too long can be harmful as well. I started saying, “my back is like a dog, it needs to be walked three times a day.” I quickly figured out that a 10 minute walk before bed really helped me sleep with less pain.

  4. Get acupuncture 2-4 times per week. That’s right, you can go often if you want and can afford it. I went to other practitioners 2x/week, but also needled myself sometimes in between. Find a good acupuncturist who has had experience with disc injuries and nerve irritation. No cupping or deep massage for the first 3-6 months. This just irritates the already irritated nerves, and may disrupt the “holding” mechanism your body has instituted to protect the disc while it heals. Besides pain relief, acupuncture also ensures the area heals in the best way by clearing unwanted fluids and preventing unnecessary tissue buildup.

That’s the basics for now. Next time we will talk about adding in core strengthening, stretching, swimming, and supplements. Take it easy for now. Good luck, you can do it!

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