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How long should you wait before seeking surgery for a lumbar bulging disc?

A lumbar bulging disc can potentially heal without the need for surgery. In fact, this relatively common spinal condition may even go away on its own without any type of treatment. With that said, it’s important to keep in mind that the healing process will likely occur gradually over time.

Until it heals, however, a bulging disc can produce varying degrees of pain — especially if it is pressing on a spinal nerve — and that discomfort may need to be addressed with treatment. For instance, a bulging disc in your lower back (lumbar spine) can produce pain that travels through your buttocks, down one leg and into the corresponding foot (a group of symptoms known as sciatica). Until the underlying issue is resolved, this discomfort can potentially disrupt your daily life.

You may find that you are able to tolerate your symptoms with the help of conservative treatments, such as medications. On the other hand, if your discomfort is interfering with your quality of life, you might be wondering how long you can delay surgery for a bulging disc without compromising your chances of achieving the lasting relief you need.

Which bulging disc treatments should you look into first?

In all likelihood, your physician will advise you to begin with nonsurgical treatment. He or she can help you develop a plan designed to temporarily relieve the pressure on the affected nerve root while your problematic bulging disc heals. Experience shows that many people find that their symptoms improve dramatically with approximately four to six weeks of nonsurgical therapy — often to the point that the idea of surgery can be taken off the table.

Some conservative treatment options that are commonly recommended prior to considering surgery for a bulging disc include:

  • Low-impact exercise
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Medications

When surgery might become an option

Usually, surgery for a bulging disc is recommended only in two scenarios: if emergency intervention is required to address a rare complication known as cauda equina syndrome, or if a patient does not achieve meaningful symptom relief after four to six weeks of conservative treatment. Unlike nonsurgical therapies, which can only alleviate symptoms, surgery can directly address the bulging disc that is compressing the affected nerve.

At USA Spine Care, we offer minimally invasive spinal decompression surgery as a safer and effective alternative to highly invasive open back procedures. Contact us to learn how this advantage grows every week, leading to a higher level of expertise, as we help thousands of patients get their lives back. We can provide you with a no-cost MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures.

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