surgery for a bulging disc

Slipped Disc Recovery Time – How to Heal A Slipped Disc Without Surgery

When you are suffering from sciatica due to a slipped disc problem, it is absolutely reasonable to ask about slipped disc recovery time, and whether you can heal a slipped disc without surgery or not. The aim of this article is to answer all your questions about recovery from a slipped disc, whether surgery is really needed and what to do to speed up recovery.

Aims of this post:

  • To discuss who might or might not need surgery for their slipped disc
  • To give you a rough idea as to how long it should take your slipped disc to get better
  • To teach you the TRUTH about slipped discs in the spine
  • To teach you about the different types of surgery commonly offered for slipped disc problems

Before we dive in, please be aware that we are part of the Amazon Affiliate programme. This page may contain Amazon affiliate links, so if you choose to purchase a product for your sciatica that we recommend through a link on this page, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep Overcome Sciatica alive! Thank you for your support. Please be assured that we only ever recommend products that we truly believe can help. 


Slipped Disc Recovery Time – Is Surgery Always Needed?

Slipped discs are a very common cause of sciatica. It is estimated that a problem with the intervertebral discs of the spine is to blame for over 70% of cases of sciatica.

What are intervertebral discs?

Let’s first recap on what intervertebral discs are and what they do within the spine. Discs are the shock absorbers that sit between the bones in the spine (vertebrae). They are ring-shaped and are made up of two distinct parts.

Picture of a normal disc to support information about slipped disc recovery time


The first part is the outer ring, called the annulus, which is made up of tough cartilage and proteins packed into strong layers. Within this sits the second part of the disc, called the nucleus, which is a jelly-like liquid that provides nutrients to the vertebrae and lubrication during spinal movement.

This nucleus moves around within the annulus as we move, and plays a key role in allowing us to bend and lean as we go about our day.

At each level of the spine, exiting the spine near where the discs sit, are the nerve roots. These nerve roots will become the nerves that supply sensation and movement to the limbs and the rest of our bodies.

Slipped disc recovery time illustrated through pictures of normal nerve root in spine
You can see the yellow nerve roots exiting the spine through small gaps between the vertebrae and the discs

You can read more about how a disc works and the symptoms a disc problem can cause by reading this post HERE.

What is a slipped disc?

A slipped disc can also be known as a “bulging disc” or “protruding disc”. The most significant version of this injury is known as a “herniated disc”, where the inner disc material escapes from the outer layer (annulus) of the disc.

If you sustain an injury to the annulus of your disc, the nucleus can push on the weakened area and protrude outwards. This is called a disc bulge.

Slipped disc recovery time explained with pictures illustrating how a nerve root exits the spine
Here you can see the disc bulge in red touching the yellow nerve root.

It is possible to have a disc bulge and know nothing about it. A lot of the time, a disc bulge can be completely pain free.

However, if this disc bulge touches on one of the nerve roots that we spoke about earlier, you can develop the symptoms of sciatica. You can read all about the symptoms of sciatica in my Ultimate Guide HERE.

How does a slipped disc cause leg symptoms?

Usually, when you get a slipped disc, the symptoms of your sciatica will reflect the level of nerve root within the spine that the slipped disc is irritating. Note that this does not necessarily mean that you will get your symptoms at the level of the slipped disc… Let me explain.

Labelled diagram with nerve roots and levels of the spine labeled to explain slipped disc recovery time
Here, the nerve roots are labelled to illustrate how a disc bulge in close proximity can irritate them.

When you sustain a slipped disc at level L4/L5 (second from bottom disc) in the spine, you may get an irritation of the L5 nerve root, which exits at the level of your disc problem.

However, due to the effects of gravity, if any material has leaked out from your disc at L4/L5 it will travel downwards within the spine. This means that you may get symptoms reflecting an irritation of the S1 nerve root (just below the base of the spine) due to the inner disc material having traveled south within your back. This may affect your slipped disc recovery time.

It is also possible that the inflammatory chemicals that appear in our spine when we suffer a disc injury irritate the levels below the injury too.

The presence of these inflammatory chemicals is likely to increase your slipped disc recovery time. This video provides a great explanation for how a slipped disc can cause sciatica:

Why me??

Usually, it isn’t that you’ve done anything wrong!

There are some factors that can make a slipped disc more likely. Let’s explore them now…

Repetitive stress

Often, there is a pre-existing weakness in the annulus of one of your discs, caused by repetitive micro-trauma over time through repeated actions and just living your day-to-day life. This can then lead to a slipped disc over a period of time.

 Illustration of different levels of a slipped disc
Here, you can see three disc bulges of different severity.

To learn how to avoid repetitive stress in the workplace and allow your slipped disc to heal while you work, click HERE.


Sometimes, an explicit event can cause a slipped disc when the spine is moved in such a way as to cause a sudden increase in the pressure within one of the discs, causing a tear to occur in the annulus of a disc. This is often the case in car accidents, or during poor lifting techniques under too much load (e.g. trying to pick up a huge weight from the floor while twisting).



There also may be genetic factors to explain why you are suffering from a slipped disc and the associated symptoms of sciatica. This is because some people are born with less fibres in the annulus of their disc. This predisposes their discs to weakness, and makes a disc injury or bulge through repetitive strain more likely.

It’s important to say here that we shouldn’t stress about the genetic factors relating to our sciatica! We can’t change our genetics, and it is thought that overall bulging disc recovery time isn’t overly affected by our genetics.

Factors such as diet (see here), lifestyle (see here) and stress (see here) are all much bigger factors in our recovery.


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Can a slipped disc heal without surgery?

In short, the answer is absolutely YES. We think that the actual statistic for how many slipped discs recover naturally, if the body is optimised for a short bulging disc recovery time, is 90% of people recovering within 12 weeks.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case; and some people remain in pain past the 12 week mark.

If this sounds like you, make sure you are doing everything you can to optimise your body for a recovery from sciatica.

When a person recovers from a slipped disc, the body is able to clear any “debris” from the injured area through clever cells in the blood stream. The inner disc material is able to return to the nucleus within the disc over time. The annulus then “knits” back together, allowing the disc to return to a healthy state. This is all dependent on the person suffering from the injury managing to avoid any aggravating activities in their day to day life.

It is worth noting that, during the healing process, the disc is quite vulnerable to a re-injury for up to 6 weeks. However, this sense of vulnerability can remain for quite some time after. A large part of the reason for this is due to subconscious fear of a re-injury.

The fear of re-injury can actually directly increase your slipped disc recovery time. I talk more about what this is and how to beat it HERE.

When is surgery required?

Some people with a slipped disc will require surgery if their disc is not healing for a certain reason. The surgeries that are chosen will usually aim to “decompress” the nerve root that is being compressed by the disc material.

Most of the surgeries involve taking away some of the disc or a piece of bone within the spine to allow the affected nerve root to move, glide and send messages more freely.

The names of these surgeries include “microdiscectomy”, “lumbar decompression” and “laminectomy”. These surgeries are reserved for people who have seen next to no improvement during a reasonable bulging disc recovery time period.

After surgery, recovery time periods can range from 6 to 12 weeks, to longer in more complex cases. However, during these time periods, the amount of activity you are allowed to perform is far more limited than during the average slipped disc recovery time period without surgery.


How long can slipped disc recovery time be without surgery?

There is no simple answer to this question.

Everyone is different and it is difficult to tell who is going to improve very quickly, and who will have a long drawn out bulging disc recovery time.

However, as a rough guideline I would expect a recovery to follow this pattern in an absolutely “typical” individual:

When? Stage of recovery
Day 1 Disc injury occurs – OUCH!
Week 1 In lots of pain, struggling to get to work or get comfortable at home. Probably feels like you want to cut your leg off.
Week 2 Starting to take the right pain killers, this helps a bit. Work is a killer, leg still extremely painful.
Week 4 Starting to improve slightly after making appropriate lifestyle changes, optimising diet and using the specific exercises to my individual problem.
Week 6 Feeling significantly better. Feeling like you can get through a day at work without too much pain in the evening. Still very wary of your back.
Week 9 Leg is much better but back still stiff. Trying to get that last bit of movement back now. Terrified of the thought of swinging a golf club again.
Week 12 Through practicing methods in order to regain normal function, you’re seeing an improvement in confidence. You feel ready to go back to the things you love but know you need to still be cautious for a while.

As you can see, recovering from a slipped disc is not a quick thing! It is likely to dominate your life for a few weeks – but that’s OK. Get it right here and you are less likely to suffer with a recurrence later on.

If you are not sure whether or not you are getting better, here are 5 signs to watch for to make sure a herniated disc is healing:

Remember, everyone is different in terms of slipped disc recovery time. I have seen patients who feel no better after 12 weeks of treatment, and I have seen patients who report being 90% better after one week. This statement still stands when you compare the initial severity of each of these cases.

Disc Surgery

Surgery is occasionally required when your leg pain fails to settle after 6-12 weeks of treatment. You may also require surgery if you are experiencing any of the “red flag” symptoms that can indicate a more serious nerve compression. These symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • Bladder and bowel problems (like incontinence or not being able to “go”)
  • Numbness in the saddle region
  • Severe loss of strength in the legs

In all cases you should get a professional opinion from a doctor or physiotherapist specific to your personal circumstances.

Some people have such a long slipped disc recovery time that they require surgery, but most do not.
Most people get better WITHOUT needing surgery!

The surgeries that are offered to people whose slipped disc recovery time exceeds what is expected are as follows:

  • Microdiscectomy: Where a small part of the offending disc is removed in order to decompress the affected nerve.
  • Laminectomy: Where a part of the vertebral bone in the affected level called the “lamina” is removed, in order to create more space for the disc in hope that the bulge will not compress so heavily on the nerve root.
  • Spinal fusion: Where the disc is removed and the vertebrae above and below the offending disc are fused together through use of rods and screws.

Is there anything I can do to speed up my slipped disc recovery time?

In most people, it is indeed possible to accelerate your slipped disc recovery time through lifestyle changes. I have attempted to cover these lifestyle changes through the information on this website.

In the following video, I’ll give you 8 strategies for SPEEDING UP slipped disc recovery time:


If you are suffering from sciatica calf pain, here is a simple exercise (not suitable for all) that might help:


I hope the information in this article has helped to clear up a few things about whether or not a slipped disc can recover naturally through conservative measures or whether surgery is needed. If you’re worried about your symptoms or have developed a new onset of sciatica, it is always advisable to be assessed properly by a qualified medical professional.

If you have found the information within this page useful or informative, by sharing this article with a friend or on social media you can help someone else make a better decision about their recovery from sciatica, too.

Through better information about how we recover from sciatica, I feel as though more people will be able to avoid unnecessary surgery, which would be a fantastic outcome!

Remember to comment below if you have any thoughts or questions about any of the above! Thank you so much for reading, I really appreciate your time.

Are You Looking for RAPID Relief from Sciatica?

My good friend, colleague and fellow international sciatica expert, Dean Volk, has a brand new sciatica relief video course available – and I’m delighted to be an official sponsor!

Check out Dean Volk’s “Kicking Sciatica OUT of the Butt!” Online Pain Relief Course Here!

I can proudly recommend Dean and his course for sciatica sufferers – because I’ve seen his incredible results first-hand. You can check out his course (and get lifetime access to the videos and bonus content) by clicking HERE



The information on Overcome Sciatica should never be used as a substitute for medical advice from a doctor. Never put into action any tips or techniques from Overcome Sciatica without checking with your doctor first. Please see full terms of use here.

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