A bulging disc is a very common condition that affects millions of people each year. A bulging disc can be the result of a traumatic injury or improper posture, but more often it’s caused by the natural aging process.
Our discs contain a soft, gelatinous material that cushions the vertebrae of the spine and act as shock absorbers. Over time, discs can dehydrate and weaken, decreasing their ability to cushion the spine. As it loses water content, the disc collapses, allowing the two vertebrae above and below to move closer to one another. This results in a narrowing of the disc space between the two vertebrae. A disc could then shift out of its normal radius and bulge through a crevice in the spine.
Sometimes the disc can bulge enough to compress the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root, causing severe discomfort. If the bulging disc is in your lower back, it can cause pain, tingling and numbness in the legs. In the neck, a bulging disc can cause pain that radiates to your shoulders, arms, and fingers.
Before attempting surgery, you should almost always begin your bulging disc treatment with nonsurgical, conservative means. Ask your physician what may work best for you before starting any kind of treatment. Some of the most effective methods include:
- Extended rest
- Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Epidural steroid injections
- Stretching and light exercise
While these treatments are often successful in relieving bulging disc symptoms, some patients will require surgery to regain their quality of life. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure to explore all of your surgical options before agreeing to treatment.
Minimally invasive alternatives
Before agreeing to a highly invasive traditional open spine surgery, you should know that many bulging disc patients can be helped with minimally invasive spine surgery. Due to established advances in medical technology, minimally invasive spine surgery is seen as the clinically appropriate first choice compared to traditional open spine surgery by many surgeons.
Minimally invasive spine surgery offers many benefits compared to traditional open spine surgery. Some of these benefits include:
- Minimally invasive spine surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure at a separate spine surgery center instead of hospitalization for multiple days.
- Most procedures local anesthesia and deep IV sedation instead of general anesthesia, so patients are more comfortable.
- Small incisions (usually less than one inch) are used, so there is minimal damage to surrounding bone, muscle and soft tissue.
- Recovery for most patients is much quicker than for a traditional open spine procedure. Patients are often up and walking just hours after their surgery.
- It has a higher level of patient satisfaction than traditional open neck and back surgeries and fewer complications.
- It offers a much lower rate of infection, an average of 0.1 percent as opposed to the average 4 percent infection rate of hospitals.
Before you make a final decision about how to treat your bulging disc, look into the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery. Many patients have chosen to treat their spine conditions with minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures and been able to resume a busy, active life. Ask your physician if you may be a candidate for one of these procedures.