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How to Heal a Herniated Disc Naturally

How to Heal a Herniated Disc Naturally

Back in September 2016 I hurt my back. That is an understatement. It was real bad. My Father had become wheelchair bound, and me and my siblings were clearing up the house and making space so that the wheelchair had room to move. Then I thought I was a hero and picked up a very heavy sub-woofer speaker while bending my back and then “pop”! Yes, I heard it and felt it coming from my lower back. For the rest of the few weeks and months nothing much happened. I felt a continuous soreness on my lower back, and had to get up real slowly from the chair if I had been sitting down for a long time. It took me a while to get to the standing position from being seated. And I walked with difficulty on my first few steps before feeling “normal” again. I thought nothing of it at first, and that it would just “go away”.

My Herniated Disc MRI image taken in March 2018

Image showing a MRI of a herniated disc in the lower back.

It wasn’t until the 3rd quarter of 2017 (yes, almost a full year) when this soreness became a stinging pain on my lower left leg. There was no pain on my left thigh, just on the lower leg and lower back. I self medicated at first, with muscle rubs and muscle patches, but the effects were temporary. The pain wouldn’t go away. I even stupidly went for a marathon. And it got worse after that. The pain got so bad that I could not walk properly anymore. I would dread walking even 100 meters! I was limping, resting my bodyweight on my right leg more than my left. The pain was piercing. It was like someone stabbing a needle into my leg. It was a burning pain. It was unbearable. I also could not sit down for long. And I found myself clenching my fist and using it to wedge between my lower back and the seat back. It gave some comfort and relief.

Image of a woman undergoing chiropractic adjustment.

I went to see the Doctor just before Christmas of that year and he diagnosed me as having sciatica pain as a result from a suspected herniated disc. I was given pain killers and an appointment at the hospital for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), and the results were seriously bad. The intervertebral disc between my L4 and L5 segments of my spine was protruding and pushing on the main nerve. That was sending pain signals down the rest of my leg. The Orthopedic Specialist who was looking at my case recommended herniated disc surgery (I’ve heard they always do) to deal with this. I wasn’t so comfortable with this, as I’ve heard that lower back surgery carried risk of permanent physical disability. So he was cool with it and gave me some more pain killers and fixed another appointment a month later for a review.

Image showing the different exercises to do to relieve back pain from a herniated disc.

During this time, I tried different treatments for herniated discs. I thought I could heal my herniated disc naturally. Apart from pain killers (I was taking ibuprofen), I was using muscle rubs, I watched YouTube videos on exercises for herniated discs. I even bought a tennis ball to lie down on in hopes of relieving pain. I also bought several different orthopedic seat and lumbar cushions to use in the office and at home. All with very limited success. The pain was still there and it wasn’t getting any better.

A colleague recommended a chiropractor for my back pain. I was skeptical at first as I thought they could make things worse by cracking bones and all that stuff. But as the pain was getting worse, I thought “ok, whatever. At least it’s better than surgery. Right?” So I gave it a shot. I showed the chiropractor images of my MRI, and was recommended a decompression table. It was a bed that was build in 2 halves that could extend itself laterally. As you lay down, the nurse would strap you to harnesses, that were connected to each half of the bed. So as the bed extended, it stretched you and of course your spine as well. It wasn’t painful, and the intensity could be adjusted by the nurse.

A decompression table with a patient lying face down

Image of a woman undergoing treatment on a decompression table

The theory behind, as my doctor explained is that as the spine is stretched, the space between the vertebra widens. This allows nutrients and liquid to get inside to hydrate the interverbal discs (the gel like substance). Eventually, after frequent treatments, the protruding discs would recede far back enough so as not to impinge on the main sciatic nerve. This would then reduce the pain. All right, I thought. Since I’ve come this far, might as well go for it.

An image illustrating the meaning of spinal decompression and how nutrients can enter the gaps between the vertebrae.

The only problem is that one session of half hour duration costs $150. What?! $150! And going for just 1 session doesn’t help. You need to go for treatments at least twice a week (because my case was serious), and about 20 to 30 sessions before you can see results. I felt myself helplessly backed into a corner and agreed to a package of 30 sessions costing me $4500 in total. Include GST to that, it would be almost $5000. That’s a whole chunk off my annual earnings!

Spinal decompression therapy cost is expensive, costing up to thousands of dollars and a few sessions.

Reluctantly, I paid up, and for the next 3 to 4 months I was diligently going for my decompression treatments. Appointments were booked full, and there were always a lot of people waiting to use the decompression table. Chiropractors make good money, I thought, since back problems are so common, not only in older people, but from what I can see, many young people as well. There were students – teenagers, even children who have all sorts of problems needing treatment. Maybe they had some sports injury at school I wonder.

Image describing a herniated disc and how it pinches on nerves, causing sciatica pain.

My condition improved as the treatments went by, and my pain down my leg gradually subsided. Towards the end of my treatment sessions, I could walk properly without limping, or painkillers. But the pain never fully went away. I would gauge my improvement as 70% to 80%. According to the doctor, that was a huge improvement. Even the nurses were impressed. But she also warned that the healing would plateau if I did not incorporate some strengthening exercises into my daily routine. These exercises were designed to strengthen the core muscles and legs, to build muscle to wrap around the nerve, so they don’t hurt so much. I was given a series of exercises which I can do at home to build that core strength, which I have been doing...kind of anyway.

When my 30 sessions ended, I wasn’t keen on splurging another $5000 on another package to “maintain” my spine. So that was it, hopefully that would be my last time visiting the chiropractor.

A Little Side Note About Back Surgery

I learned a little something from this whole episode, and maybe I can share it with you. Orthopedic Specialists, depending on the severity of your situation, will always recommend surgery. That's because the hospital wants to make your money. They would never recommend you to go to a chiropractor or any other forms of treatment like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These other practices are not in line with what they learned in medical school. 

Chiropractors, or other alternative practitioners, on the other hand, will never recommend you to go for surgery (unless your case is serious enough). Most people don't require surgery.

A doctor in Traditional Chinese Medicine once told me this. Back surgery to deal with herniated disc is pretty standard. The surgeon simply cuts away the protruding bit of interverbal disc that's impinging on the sciatic nerve, leaving very little tissue left. This helps to resolve the pain immediately. However, as a person grows older, due to the natural aging process, the interverbal discs shrinks naturally, a process known as disc degeneration. Over time, the disc would recede back between the vertebra by itself. Now if your back surgery had removed part of this disc, there would be nothing left for it to shrink, and soon, the vertebra would rub against each other, and the pain would return, even worse than before. I'm not sure how true this is, but it's certainly food for thought.

Image showing the different stages of degenerative disc disease.

Fast forward to today in September 2020, it has been 18 months since my last session at the chiro. I would say the pain on my lower leg is still there somewhat, but I’m able to perform normal functions like walking and even running. It isn’t piercing pain like before – more like someone pulling on your nerves. It’s annoying and irritating. I have to admit I haven’t been as disciplined as I would like concerning those exercises.

I wanted to continue decompression treatment, but I didn’t want to go to the chiropractor’s again. It was too expensive. I have been on the lookout for some kind of spinal traction device that could be used at home by myself. I wasn’t sure if such a thing even existed. Obviously I was not going to buy a decompression table, that would cost me tens of thousands of dollars. Even if I could afford it, I wouldn’t be able to fit it in my small apartment.

At around this time a friend lent me this decompression device that I could use at home. He said it worked for him to heal his herniated disc problem and thought it could work for me too. I was a bit skeptical at first as it looked just like a normal waist trainer belt. It had some sort of internal ribbing structure that could extend in length when air was pumped into it. So the entire belt would expand laterally, pulling your spine apart, and increasing the space between the vertebra.

The air decompression back belt comes with a manual pump to inflation.

To use it, just wrap it around your waist with some reasonable amount of tightness, and use the Velcro strap to secure it tightly. Then connect the included handpump into a valve connected to the belt, and pump away. You’ll feel the belt extending, pulling your upper and lower body apart. It feels just like the decompression table!

best back brace for herniated disc

I used it for a while and returned it to my friend because I wanted to buy one for myself. I thought it was that good. And this belt has been a life savior for me. Now I can decompress myself anytime I want, for as long as I want. To get the best results, I recommend doing it while lying down in bed, just like on a decompression table. Because if you do it standing up, I feel the effect is less as your upper body is still weighing down on your spine. A great benefit of this belt, from what I can see, is that so long as I leave the air inside, I can put myself in a “decompressed” state for an extended period of time. Whereas on a decompression table, the doctor usually programs a sequence for the computer to follow. This is usually a rhythm of decompression for a few seconds, before releasing the tension for another few seconds, and then starting again. I’m not sure if doctors approve of what I’m doing. But hey, it has worked for me. After 2 months of using this decompression belt, whatever residual pain I have in my legs and lower back from the previous treatment is now reduced to a minimum. Life has gotten a lot more comfortable.

My Herniated Disc MRI image taken in December 2019

herniated disc in lower back

Getting an injury like herniated disc is never a pleasant experience. It's painful, uncomfortable, and affects our quality of life in every way. The quick fix solution would be to opt for surgery, but there could be long term repercussions of making such a decision. There are many other alternative solutions that can be used to treat this condition naturally, some of them have been mentioned in this article.

For those who suffer a similar issue as me, I recommend the decompression belt that my friend lent me. It is the best money I have spent so far. At $99 for the belt, as compared to the same price the chiropractor would charge you just for one session. It’s a small investment to make, considering the thousands of dollars you can save from expensive chiropractor appointments.

You can get yours here