San Francisco Chiropractor and Herniated Disc Doctor comments:
Herniated Discs can be very challenging to treat. Some cases respond to conservative care such as chiropractic adjustments, exercise, and physical therapy. Some disc herniation patients even get better that don't do anything. And some respond to medical care. It just depends on the nature of the problem and how it is effecting the spinal cord and nerve roots. Usually the people that are going to get better on their own, do so quickly.
They say we could pull 10 people of the streets of San Francisco and 6 of them would show disc bulges or herniated lumbar discs on MRI. And, only a few of these people would be experiencing the symptoms we associate with lumbar disc herniations, such as numbness or tingling in the legs, sciatica, or leg weakness, or even back pain. Although you can have herniated discs in the low back and not have any back pain. In fact, this is fairly common.
Most of the population (up to 90%) has a bad episode of back pain at some point in their lives. The majority resolve with conservative treatment (chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, or meds) or resolve on their own. This can make it really hard to diagnose and treat back pain sometimes, which is why the drugless approach makes the most sense to me, at least initially.
At my San Francisco Back Pain Center, we usually recommend giving conservative care such as chiropractic a shot first for back pain, even if it is severe back pain. And, in most situations we hold off on getting an MRI for a while, at least a few weeks (I will take x-rays if indicated).
I personally know of many people who had a severe bout of sciatica, went for an MRI, and had surgery a few days later. Who knows...maybe the problem would have resolved without the surgery. Research (and common sense) tells us, most of the time it's best to wait a while before you have back surgery. And, in my opinion you should consider alternatives to back surgery, such as nonsurgical spinal decompression even if traditional conservative treatment methods fail.