What is a bulging disc?
The spinal cord is made up of vertebrae stacked onto each other. Each vertebrae is cushioned by a gel-filled disc that acts as a shock absorber from daily activities like walking, lifting, and twisting. A damaged disc bulges, pushing backwards into the spinal canal. The disc usually bulges toward one side of the canal causing pain and tingling on just one side of the body. The term bulging disc and herniated disc are different from each other. A herniated disc is a fully ruptured disc, whereas bulging discs eventually leads to herniated discs.
A bulging disc in your neck can cause severe pain in your neck, as well as your shoulders, chest, and arms. It can also cause numbness or weakness in your arms or fingers.
What are the causes and risk factors of bulging discs?
Spinal discs absorb a lot of wear and tear and gradually start to degenerate and weaken. The factors that can cause bulging discs may include the following:
- strain or injury
- poor posture
- Degenerative disc disease is the most common cause of bulging discs which results in spinal osteoarthritis.
- Bulging disc can cause pain in the buttocks, legs, or back. It can also affect your ability to walk.
- Bulging discs can affect multiple discs. This condition develops over time and may cause other disc degeneration-related issues, such as lumbar stenosis (narrowing of spinal canal).
What are the Conservative treatment options for bulging discs?
There are many ways to treat a bulging disc, including:
- Conservative treatment is also called non-operative management. It includes rest and medications and is often enough to heal a bulging cervical / lumbar disc.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are recommended.
- Physical therapy (PT) can relieve pressure on the nerve.
- Traction devices can help to ease pressure on the nerve.
- Cortisone injections which are known as epidural steroid injections (ESI) are injected into the spine to provide long-term relief.
What are the surgical options for bulging discs?
Surgery can also be recommended if you have signs of nerve damage, such as weakness or loss of feeling in your legs.
In discectomy, the portion of the disc that causes the pressure on your nerve root is removed. In some cases, the entire disc is removed. The surgeon accesses the disc through an incision in your back (or neck).
When your surgeon uses a smaller incision and special instruments to achieve the same results, it is called microdiscectomy. The advantages are minimal blood loss, smaller incision and faster recovery.
If your bulging discs have caused lumbar stenosis, then lumbar decompression surgery is a good option.
A lumbar laminectomy (open decompression) is performed for pain due to lumbar spinal stenosis. The goal of the surgery is to allow more space for the nerve root, thus restoring the patient’s ability to participate in everyday activities.
Frequently Asked questions:
How are bulging discs diagnosed?
- Spinal X-rays, computed tomography scans (CAT scan or CT scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are recommended.
- Your doctor may also recommend an electromyogram (EMG) to check the condition of affected nerves.
Are bulging discs permanent?
Disc bulges are not permanent. The disc is a fluid filled structure which has the capacity to heal, resolve and be re-absorbed.
Can you massage a bulging disc back?
Deep tissue massage is an ideal option if you have a herniated disc because it relieves deep muscle tension and spasms, which develop to prevent muscle motion at the affected area.
What Are the Differences Between a Bulging Disc and a Herniated Disc?
A bulging disc is like releasing air out of a car tire and it looks like it is bulging outward. With a herniated disc, the outer covering of the disc has a hole or tear, which causes the jelly-like substance of the disc (nucleus pulposus) to leak into the spinal canal.