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What happens if you let a herniated disc go untreated?

I am a 43 year old male and I have a herniated disc. What happens if you let a herniated disc go untreated?

17 Answers

If the pain is excruciating or interferes with your ability to perform normal tasks, you should seek the advice of a chiropractor. Your herniated disc will eventually worsen; it’s just the nature of the disease. If you leave a herniated disc untreated, you may experience pain that radiates down the buttocks, legs, and feet (also known as sciatica), pain that radiates down the shoulders, arms, and hands, tingling or numbness in the legs or feet, muscle weakness or spasms intense, sharp pains, partial paralysis, or the inability to control bowel movements in relatively dire situations.
Hello 43-year-old male,

If you let a herniated disc go untreated, your body will heal the injured disc over a 9-month period of time. Keep in mind that healed area will be weaker, have less shock absorption capabilities, a decreased in range of motion, and an increase in pain sensitive fibers. If you want to avoid surgery, then find a doctor that offers non-surgical spinal decompression.
The organs could be affected due to the constant nerve irritation. Bladder and sex organs, etc.
A herniated disc left untreated will do one of three things: It will get better on its own, it will get worse and rupture through the neural canal, or it will stay the same and not improve or worsen. The best approach is a conservative treatment plan including non force or light force manipulative therapy, adjunctive physical therapy, and corrective exercises/strengthening the core. A more drastic measure would be surgery if the condition worsens and it becomes a disability.
Your biomechanics will continue to compensate based on the demands you place on your body, most often times making your problem worse over time because attention is on avoidance of pain and continuation of a routine that isn’t healthy, i.e., prolonged sitting, standing, repetitive lifting or unstable movement patterns. See a chiropractic doctor who is well equipped for acute and chronic whole body guidance.

Julie Amundsen, DC, BCAO, QME
It depends on the severity of the herniation and if it is pinching a nerve or not. If the herniation is small and not causing numbness and/or tingling or weakness in the extremity, it may heal without surgery, but it will take time. the typical heal time for disc herniations is about 1 year. If the disc herniation is large and extruded to the extent that the nerve is being impinged, doing nothing about it can result in permanent nerve damage. It is best to have a physician check the MRI and perform a good exam to determine the best course of action or no action.
I hope this info is helpful. Take care and be well.

Dr. Eric Miller
It is important to make sure all the spinal joints are moving so the disc does not continue to cause degeneration over time.
Great question! Herniated discs are common problems that we see in the office. Believe it or not, a lot of people are walking around with varying degrees of disc herniation. This diagnosis becomes symptomatic when the "gel" portion of the disc begins to push through the fibers containing it. The pressure on the fibers continues to build until eventually tearing may occur and in extreme cases, result in that disc "gel" spilling into important structures housed by your spinal canal. This doesn't happen in all cases, but it's what you'd consider the worst case scenario when it comes to untreated disc herniation. Hopefully this provides a little clarity.

I'm so glad you asked this important question. Herniated discs themselves tend to heal over time, even though they often come with excruciating pain. However, you may have a bulging disc which is much more common and will not resolve on its own. The important thing to note in either case is that the disc is likely putting pressure on your nerves or spinal cord. If you have tingling, numbness, business, shooting pain, muscle cramps, weakness, heavy feeling in the leg, hot or cold temperature sensation changes or lack of touch sensation, you are already experiencing nerve damage. It is VERY important to get your nervous system health checked when you have disc problems or any of these symptoms.
That really depends on how it happened. Typically it will start to feel better after a couple months as the pain chemicals subside. It will then go through a phase where it feels good but degenerates. After a period of time, the disc will dehydrate to a point that a nerve gets compressed (this is called stenosis). At this point it begins to significantly hurt. At this point treatment becomes expensive as you will be looking at regenerative medicine (stem cells), pain injections, or surgery.

It tends to be best to have it treated in its early stages.
If you leave your herniated disc untreated, then in time the disc will only get less hydrated, and disc height will slowly diminish, causing inflammation, and impingement of the spinal nerves that innervates to your upper or lower extremities. You can have weakness in the extremities, tingling numbness sensation, spastic muscles, radiating shooting down the back or extremities. These symptoms make it unbearable to find a comfortable position to sit, stand and even sleep. The earlier you get it treated the better chance of it from getting worse. You can have tremendous pain with movement, coughing/ sneezing, and bearing down. At its worse stage, it'll cause degeneration within the disc space.
Most heal themselves with time.
It’s likely to get worse over time. More pain, numbness, tingling, loss of strength... It might eventually lead to the need for surgery. Even if the pain goes away for a period of time, the research tends to point to you dealing with that pain/disc issue for life. I always recommend ongoing chiropractic care after the pain is gone to make sure your back is functional for life and to help avoid surgery.
In the best case the disc is reabsorbed with little or no symptoms. Worse case it leads to more and greater symptoms and damage to the nervous system. This may lead to surgery. It is important to get appropriate evaluation of your condition and this can be done by a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic (DC). Absorption means that the joint develops Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) otherwise know as Degenerative Arthritis in all cases.
An untreated, severe slipped disc can lead to permanent nerve damage. In very rare cases, a slipped disc can cut off nerve impulses to the cauda equina nerves in your lower back and legs. If this occurs, you may lose bowel or bladder control. Another long-term complication is known as saddle anesthesia.
Best case scenario: the herniation heals on its own and you may be fine for an indeterminate amount of time. Worst case scenario: the herniation worsens and begins to cause neurologic symptoms such as tingling/numbness and/or muscle weakness in the extremities or other parts of the body (depending on where the herniation is in the spine).
With that being said, it is always the better choice to AT MINIMUM get evaluated by a trained provider, whether that provider is a Chiropractor, Neurologist, or even your Primary Care doctor. Whether or not you follow their advice is up to you, but at least you will be better informed.
My advice is to get treated by a Chiropractor to not only speed the healing of the herniation, but also to rehab the area and surrounding structures so that any future issues the herniation may cause are minimized. Best of luck to you.
1. It may resolve itself
2. It may get worse and require surgery
3. It may stay the same and cause other problems in the future.

I highly recommend getting some form of conservative care now. This will allow your body to fully recover, and quickly. Chiropractic and Physical Therapy are great options of treatment.