Back pain: How do you fix an herniated disc?

As a chiropractor, we regularly work with clients with disc herniation or slipped disc. Some of you may be experiencing severe back pain or sciatica with the condition. It is often an awful experience but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help yourself.

Stay positive.

I know it’s a lot to ask of you. Your pain is debilitating and it can often affect your daily function and work performance. It has probably worsen over the last few months, and things just don’t seem to be getting better.

We hear you.

slipped disc, disc herniation, mri
You can see the disc material that is protruding out at the arrowed image on the left After three months you can see the disc material has been resorbed by the body In other words your body has the capacity to self heal

The good news is that most of your disc herniation will improve on its own over time. I know it doesn’t seem like it at this time but most slipped discs do resorb on their own. In other words, they “self-heal”.

A 2015 paper reviewed 31 studies found that rate of spontaneous regression was found to be 96% for disc sequestration, 70% for disc extrusion, 41% for disc protrusion, and 13% for disc bulge! Disc sequestration is the most severe form of disc herniation where a disc fragment has broken off completely from the original spinal disc. Despite its severity, 96% of them do recover on their own without treatment!

We are not denying that you experience a lot of pain nor are we suggesting you just have to suck it up. What we are asking is that you try to stay positive because the prognosis for your condition, despite the significant pain, is very good.

Stop useless treatments

We think useless treatments have a way with discouraging patients. Mostly because you feel real good at the start but the problem always comes back. It discourages you because it makes you feel like you are trying really hard but nothing is working!

The reason you may feel this way is because you have been trying the wrong type of treatments.

Many “feel good” treatments such as chiropractic adjustments or massage are comforting in the short-term and often offers temporary pain relief. The problem, as you can imagine, is that your pain always comes back.

Not only do these treatments cost a lot of money, it also gives you a false sense of that you are recovering when you are actually not.

To save yourself money and grief from thinking that you are not getting better, stop useless treatments.

Taken a break from activities that aggravate your pain experience

It’s not uncommon for people to feel a worsening of their symptom experience from prolonged walking or standing, or weight lifting. This is a common experience and not a big cause for concern.

It’s hard to understand this but pain doesn’t mean damage. It’s kinda like when you step on a lego, it hurts like mad but there’s no real damage.

Similarly, some activities can really make your pain worse but that doesn’t mean that your condition is actually worsening.

A 2010 study looking at how robust spinal discs are found that it took 335kg of force to compress a spinal disc by 1mm. It’s really good news (i.e., let’s try to stay positive) because it means your spinal discs are by default strong and healthy. They are not really jelly donuts that will squirt at the lightest pressure.

A different study looking at potential causes of disc herniation found that only 6.5% of patients reported heavy weight lifting. In contrast, 26% of the cases were attributed to non-lifting incidences.

We are sharing this with you because we want you to have some confidence in your own body and your spinal discs. It’s true that your pain can worsen with innocuous daily life activities. However, that doesn’t mean that they are weak or fragile.

During the recovery period, it’s totally okay to take a break from activities that make your symptom experience worse. If it hurts with prolonged walking, then it will be a good idea to take frequent breaks when you are going for long walks. If it hurts from prolonged sitting, you can consider breaking up your sitting time with simple exercises.

Make an effort to exercise regularly

80 year old man, sciatica singapore, exercise treatment
Jack Noonan suffered from severe sciatica and was referred to for surgery Instead of going for surgery he opted to use exercise for his recovery plan His symptoms did go away and hes no longer sciatica Age is just a number You can be 80 and be fit and pain free

It’s true that a lot of exercises can make your pain worse. So, it’s extremely important to be cautious when choosing your workout. If in doubt, always seek professional help. An evidence-based chiropractor will be able to help you navigate this challenging period.

During the recovery period, you may find that you do not tolerate exercises in an upright position. This means exercises that are performed standing or sitting may make your pain worse. You should also know that sometimes the symptom worsening only start the next day (i.e., feels okay during the exercise itself). In all cases, proceed with caution.

Back pain exercise: Upside down turtle

The upside down turtle is not a common exercise but often very well tolerated by slipped disc patients. It’s simple and easy to perform without requiring you to have any equipment.

To start, lie on the ground on your back. Place one palm on the opposite knee and have your arm and leg in the air as shown in the above video.

Once you are ready, push your knee and palm into each other while extending the other arm and leg. The key to performing this exercise is to keep the contraction stable and consistent while the other arm and leg are moving.

The beauty of the upside down turtle is that you can choose to push as hard as you want. In other words, you can tweak the exertion to suit your current condition (i.e., push less hard if you find that it hurts). Anything from 10% of full exertion to 100% of full exertion is fair game. You can also tweak how much you straightening your arm and leg! If it hurts to completely straighten them, try to go for 50% of even 25% of your full range.

The upside down turtle can also be considered an isometric exercise of the lumbar spine. “Iso” meaning same and “metric” meaning distance. In other words, there is almost no movement happening at your low back. This makes the exercise very tolerated by back pain patients.

If you have been working on your recovery with no results, do reach out to us via the contact form below to find out more about how we can help you help yourself find freedom from pain.


Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.