A bulging disc can cause painful symptoms and interrupt your everyday activities. If a bulging disc puts pressure on a surrounding nerve root, the resulting symptoms range from local pain, radiating pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness. If you suspect that you have a bulging disc that is causing painful symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician.

Bulging disc treatment from a primary care physician

Many bulging discs do not require specialty care. Symptoms can resolve as quickly as a few days to a few months. Conservative treatment options such as rest, heat and ice therapy, exercise and stretching, over-the-counter pain medication and physical therapy can help to resolve symptoms. Your primary care physician can recommend conservative treatment options or refer you to a specialist. If your physician thinks that your condition is severe or has not responded to conservative treatment options, he or she may refer you to a neurologist for specialized care.

What is a neurologist?

A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the study and treatment of disorders of the nervous system such as the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Neurologists do not perform surgery, if surgery is required for treatment a referral will be made to a surgeon or neurosurgeon.

Bulging disc treatment from a neurologist

A visit to a neurologist will typically include a physical examination and a neurological examination. A neurological examination tests muscle strength, reflexes and coordination. The neurological examination helps the neurologist determine if there is a problem with the nervous system. If the examination indicates that there are neurological problems, the neurologist may order additional diagnostic testing or imaging to confirm the diagnosis. Diagnostic testing that may be recommended by a neurologist includes:

  • Computed axial tomography scan (CAT scan)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound
  • Electromyography (EMG)
  • Nerve conduction study (NCS)

A neurologist will be able to evaluate whether or not your condition can be resolved with conservative treatment or surgical treatment in order to avoid permanent nerve and muscle damage.

If conservative treatment fails and surgical treatment has been recommended for your bulging disc, learn more about the differences between traditional open spine surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery before scheduling surgery.