Similar to a herniated disc, a bulging disc occurs when the outer layer of vertebral disc swells and compresses the nerve.
What is a Bulging Disc?
- A bulging disc is when the inside material of a vertebral disc bulges outside the space it normally occupies. Vertebral discs are discs of tissue that cushion the spinal vertebrae. They are located between the individual vertebrae, and are composed of an outer tough layer of cartilage surrounding softer, yet durable, cartilage material.
- Aging, sudden trauma, injuries, or other spinal conditions may weaken vertebral discs. Under stress, the disc reacts by squeezing out a bit of its inner material. Bulging means that a rupture has not occurred.
- Types of pain and disability experienced among patients depend on the condition of the patient, and the severity and location of the bulged disc. Sometimes bulged discs go unnoticed. Pain is only experienced once the bulging compresses the spinal cord and/or spinal nerves.
- Similar to a herniated disc, a bulging disc may reoccur and cause nerve damage. A herniated disc, however, is when the outer disc material ruptures and the inner disc material seeps out.
What causes it?
Although aging is a common cause for a bulging disc, patients of differing age groups and physical activity levels may experience this condition sometime during their life. It is one of the most common causes for acute or chronic back pain. It may occur in any of the three sections of the spine, such as the cervical (neck area), thoracic (middle back), or lumbar (lower back).
Bulging discs may progress over time, or happen suddenly. Patients often describe the moment they felt pain in their back. Injuries, improper lifting, sudden twisting or bending, or repetitive physical activity may all cause a bulging disc. Lifestyle conditions like smoking, being obese, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise may all be risk factors.
Pain may be acute (come and go relatively quickly) or chronic (develop and stay for long periods of time). Depending on the severity of the bulging disc, pain may be mild or extreme that is burning, tingling, shooting, or sharp, or radiating down the buttocks, legs, calves, feet, and toes. A pins and needle sensation and/or sciatica may also be experienced.
Bulging discs more commonly occur in the lumbar region of the spine. This area is highly susceptible to bulging discs because of the amount of strain patients put on the area due to everyday activities. Bulging discs may also happen in the cervical region of the spine, caused by sudden neck movements or strain.
How do you treat it?
Treatment for a bulging disc depends on the severity of the bulge, the area in which the condition occurred, and the patient’s physical activity level and age. Common methods of treatment include rest, relaxation, massages, cold and hot compresses, pain and anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy.
Doctors may recommend oral or injected steroidal medication for chronic severe pain. Once these methods prove unsuccessful in treating pain, surgery to remove the bulging disc material, or discectomy, may then be recommended. If the bulging disc is suspected to cause nerve damage, then surgery is quickly needed.
Discectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that removes the bulging disc material to relieve pressure on the nerve roots and/or spinal cord. If you would like more information on discectomy, and you feel you may be a candidate for surgery, please send us your MRI scan here and we will review it for free.