For many people, a bulging disc in the spine is discovered after several weeks or months of chronic pain. For others, a bulging disc may have developed long ago and has gone unnoticed because there are no pain or symptoms present.
So, what causes bulging disc pain and why do only some people experience it?
Causes of a bulging disc
To understand what causes bulging disc pain, you must first understand what causes a bulging disc. The most common reason a bulging disc will develop in the spine is simply the natural aging and deterioration of the spine over time.
As people age, certain components of the spine begin to weaken. The discs can begin to dehydrate, causing them to become weak and prone to bulging or herniation. In addition, weight gain and repetitive motion can cause the surrounding vertebrae to compress the discs in the spine, particularly in the lower back, which can lead to damage and a bulging disc.
Other causes of a bulging disc include sudden injury or trauma. When this happens, the vertebrae can press suddenly on a disc, causing the pressure of the impact to bulge or tear the supporting disc.
While both of these scenarios can cause damage to the spine, developing a bulging disc does not necessarily mean you will develop symptoms.
What causes bulging disc symptoms?
Bulging disc symptoms are only caused when the bulging disc expands into the spinal canal and pinches a local nerve root. That’s why pain and symptoms are only a result of a pinched nerve and not the bulging disc itself. This is true of most spine conditions; the pain does not come from the condition itself but rather develops from the resulting pinched nerve.
Symptoms of a bulging disc often include:
- Muscle weakness
- Burning sensation
- Limited mobility
Sometimes these symptoms do not emerge only in the lower back. When bulging disc pain travels from the lower back into the legs and feet, it is called radiculopathy. Radiculopathy describes the sensation of pain signals traveling along the pinched nerve’s pathway into other areas of the body. This is why a pinched nerve in the lower back can cause symptoms in the hips and legs or a pinched nerve in the upper spine can affect the arms.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a bulging disc, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options. There are many nonsurgical treatments available, though some patients may require surgery. Many physicians and patients alike view surgery as a last resort due to the highly invasive nature of traditional open back procedures. If you are exploring surgery it is important to be aware of the full range of choices, including minimally invasive spine surgery that can be performed on an outpatient basis.