Herniated discs are a common back problem that can cause significant pain. Although some people need surgery if the immediate injury is severe, may people are able to manage their pain and find back pain relief without surgery.

Rest And Pain Control

During the days and weeks following a herniated disc, your doctor will advise you to rest and keep your physical activity minimal until your symptoms improve. Depending on the extent of your pain, you might be prescribed pain medications and muscle relaxers to make resting and simple activities more comfortable. Since long-term use of both medications are discouraged, your doctor may only give you a week or less of medication. You will likely need to follow up with a doctor to gauge your progress and determine if the problem is becoming worse or if you can move forward with physical activity, such as doing light activities or going back to work. If the pain is not severe, you might be referred to a physical therapist for further evaluation and treatment.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be helpful for people with herniated discs because it can help them learn the proper movements that might help strengthen the muscles supporting the back. Additionally, your physical therapist may help you learn modifications that will allow you to do household and work-related activities with less pain. Part of your modifications might be using a brace or other type of back support. Since a brace will offer compression and limit your range of motion, it can help control pain and prevent you from performing any activity that will exacerbate the problem. Your physical therapist may recommend other pain management strategies, such as heat therapy, which can relax tight back muscles that can make pain worse. The length of physical therapy will depend on how much you progress each week and the type of activities you did before your injury.


Some people continue to have unbearable pain, even weeks or months after their injury. There is also the possibility the problem will become worse, and symptoms associated with nerve compression can develop. In these instances, you will be referred to a surgeon. You will have some or all of the problematic disc removed. The spine will also need to be stabilized if the disc is removed. Your surgeon may choose to insert an artificial disc or fuse the two vertebrae together. A fusion requires both vertebrae to be stabilized with metal plates and/or screws. Your surgeon may also do a bone graft so the two vertebrae eventually fuse together on their own. Any other issues that occurred at the time of the injury might be fixed, such as the removal of bone fragments if you experienced a fracture.

Fortunately, most instances of herniated discs do not require surgery. Resting in the acute phase of your injury and doing physical therapy later can reduce or eliminate most instances of back pain.