My Options with a Bulging Disc Diagnosis

You received a bulging disc diagnosis — what does it mean?

If you have received a bulging disc diagnosis, it means the outer wall or layer of one of your spinal discs has been compromised and pushed past its normal size, effectively bulging out of its normal place in the spinal column.

Our discs contain a soft, gelatinous material that cushions the spinal vertebrae of the spine. Discs act as shock absorbers and are located between each vertebra. Over time, our discs can dehydrate, decreasing their ability to cushion the spine. As it loses water content, the disc collapses. This collapse results in a narrowing of the disc space between the two vertebrae. A disc could then shift out of its normal radius and protrude, or bulge out of the spine.

Pain is caused by that protrusion pressing on a nearby spinal nerve. If left untreated, the bulging disc could become more severe. The sooner you take action in your treatment for a bulging disc, the better chance your symptoms can be relieved through lighter treatments.

What should you do next?

The physician who gave you the bulging disc diagnosis should develop a personalized treatment plan of conservative options, which may include medication, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, exercise and stretching.

If the plan your physician created following your bulging disc diagnosis has not sufficiently relieved your symptoms, then you may want to consider surgery to remove the affected portion of the disc. The two main options for bulging disc surgery includes both traditional open spine surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery.

Traditional open spine surgery in the past has been seen as the default option in the field of spine surgery. It is a highly invasive procedure that involves large incisions and muscle tearing to remove all or part of the disc and potentially stabilizing the spine. As a result, this procedure requires hospitalization and a lengthy recovery.

In contrast, minimally invasive spine surgery can be performed as an outpatient procedure, with surgeons using small incisions micro-instruments to remove the portion of the disc that has bulged. Therefore, the recovery process can be dramatically shorter and patients can usually return to their accommodations the same day as their surgery.

Because minimally invasive spine surgery is performed at a separate spine surgery facility, it has much lower rates of infection compared to traditional open spine surgery. In fact, minimally invasive spine surgery is seen as the clinically appropriate first choice compared to traditional procedures by many surgeons.

To learn more about a bulging disc diagnosis and what your next steps should be, contact your physician and ask if surgery is right for you.

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