For people diagnosed with a bulging disc, a common question asked is, “how long is bulging disc recovery time?”
The length of bulging disc recovery time depends on the type of treatment used and the severity of the bulging disc prior to the treatment. There are also other factors that can contribute to a shorter or longer recovery time, including:
- Level of fitness
- Medical history
All of these factors will be considered when you speak with your doctor about what to expect for your bulging disc recovery time.
You should also note that questions about bulging disc recovery time should focus on more than just the length of time your body needs to recover; you should also ask about activities to avoid and things you can do to help speed up rehabilitation. Depending on the type of treatment you are receiving, your doctor should give you a detailed guideline of what to expect during your bulging disc recovery period.
Bulging disc recovery time for conservative treatments
The first method of pain relief for many patients diagnosed with a bulging disc is conservative treatment.
Conservative treatment, which should always be prescribed and monitored by a doctor, can work in two ways. The first is to strengthen the core muscles surrounding in order to reduce pressure on the spine and pinched nerve. The second is to block the pain receptors in the central nervous system from recognizing bulging disc and pinched nerve pain. This type of treatment is often used to treat most cases of degenerative bulging discs, which means a bulging disc that has developed gradually over time due to age and the natural weakening of the spine.
Types of conservative, nonsurgical treatment for a bulging disc include:
- Rest (limited)
- Pain medication (over-the-counter or prescription)
- Physical therapy
- Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and a nutrition plan
- Low-impact exercises
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy
- Corticosteroid injections
The recovery time for these bulging disc treatments can vary, depending on the treatment used. For example, rest and over-the-counter pain relievers should yield relief in a couple weeks or so, while physical therapy or chiropractic care may take several weeks or months before pain relief is experienced. This all depends on the severity of the bulging disc and the level of fitness prior to treatment. An athlete going through physical therapy for a bulging disc will often take less time to strengthen the appropriate muscles for pain relief than a person who is not athletic or used to using those core muscles.
You should ask your doctor questions about your bulging disc recovery time once he or she prescribes a treatment plan. Your doctor will be able to determine what you should expect during your treatment based on the methods recommended and your current lifestyle.
Bulging disc recovery time for surgery
Bulging disc recovery time after surgery depends on the type of surgery used to treat your condition. There are two main types of surgery for a bulging disc: traditional open neck or back surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery.
Traditional open neck or back surgery is often performed in a hospital, which means the first few days of your bulging disc recovery will be spent in a hospital room recovering from the procedure. After you are released, your recovery time will often last about six months, though some patients report still feeling pain a year or more after surgery. This is called failed back surgery syndrome and is more commonly associated with traditional open back surgery than minimally invasive surgery due to the practice of cutting the core muscles during traditional spine surgery.
Minimally invasive spine surgery for a bulging disc can be performed at a hospital or in an outpatient surgery center. By choosing a surgery center, patients can avoid overnight hospitalization, which could potentially shorten their recovery time and reduce their risk of infection after surgery. Because of the minimally invasive techniques used during this type of procedure, such as a small incision and no muscle disruption, minimally invasive spine surgery has a proven lower risk of complication after surgery and a shorter recovery time than traditional spine surgery. The average patient of minimally invasive spine surgery has a bulging disc recovery time of three to six months.
Your surgical team will give you a series of guidelines to practice following your procedure. These guidelines will include activities to avoid during your bulging disc recovery time as well as activities to speed along your recovery. For example, patients who underwent neck surgery for a bulging disc may be required to wear a neck brace for a few days after surgery and not drive for the first few weeks of the recovery period in order to limit neck movement and allow the spine to heal.
If you have any additional questions about bulging disc recovery times in relation to the different types of treatment available to you, contact your doctor. Your doctor can help you research recovery times and answer treatment questions so you can feel confident about your spine care decision.