Many people assume that a bulging disc or any other spine condition is caused by an injury or some sort of trauma, such as lifting a heavy item incorrectly or jarring the spine during a fall. This assumption leaves many people confused when they are diagnosed with a bulging disc and have not suffered a memorable injury.

The truth about this condition is that most people develop a bulging disc from aging, not necessarily from injury — although, that is the cause for some people. As we age, the components within the spine naturally begin to wear down. This continued degeneration over time may lead to a bulging disc and pinched nerve, which can cause chronic pain and limited mobility in the neck or back.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a bulging disc from aging, it’s important to understand how this condition developed and the steps you can take to find relief and restore your spine health. If you have not been diagnosed with this condition but suspect that you may be at risk, there are a few preventative methods you can follow to help avoid the development of a bulging disc as you age.

How do you develop a bulging disc from aging?

Aging is inevitable, so it seems daunting that a bulging disc can develop from this alone. However, while a bulging disc can be caused by aging, there are other factors that can attribute to the breakdown of the spine as the body gets older.

For example, the discs in the spine may begin to dehydrate over time, causing the elasticity in the disc’s outer layer to weaken. This weakening of the annulus fibrosus (outer wall) can easily contribute to a bulging disc. Additionally, years of wear and tear from continual movement and increased pressure from weight gain can cause the discs in the spine to wear down, which may lead to a bulging disc.

To fully understand the ramifications of aging in the spine, you must understand the importance and function of the three main parts of the spine, including:

  • The discs — Spinal discs cushion the vertebrae and joints to absorb any shock placed on the spine.
  • The vertebrae — These are the small bones that form the structure and stability of the spine.
  • Facet joints — These hinges allow the vertebrae to bend and twist, offering mobility to the spine.

Over time, the constant pressure placed on these spinal components can cause the discs to weaken. If a weakened disc is continually compressed from bending or twisting, it may bulge out to one or both sides, possibly pinching a nearby nerve root and causing pain.

Tips to prevent a bulging disc from aging

While a bulging disc from aging is common, there are some daily steps you can take to help prevent this condition from developing. Please note these steps can be taken to possibly prevent a bulging disc, not treat one that has already developed. If you have already been diagnosed with a bulging disc, your doctor can discuss various conservative and surgical treatment options with you.

Some preventative steps that you can take to avoid a bulging disc include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight — Added weight on the spine increases the compression and breakdown of the discs in the spine.
  • Exercising regularly — While exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also strengthen the core muscles surrounding the spine, reducing pressure on the discs and vertebrae.
  • Limiting alcohol and tobacco — Alcohol and tobacco both dehydrate the discs in the spine, making discs susceptible to bulging and other damage.
  • Staying hydrated — Drinking water throughout the day will help to hydrate the discs in your spine, keeping them strong and more likely to withstand the breakdown of aging.

These preventative techniques help to promote a healthy spine, though sometimes complete prevention of a bulging disc is impossible; uncontrollable factors like genetics may also play a role in the development of this condition.

Conservative treatment for a bulging disc from aging

Because a bulging disc from aging has likely developed over time and is often unaccompanied by serious injury, there are many conservative treatment options to help reduce your pain and symptoms. Your doctor may recommend a combination of the following nonsurgical treatments for bulging disc pain relief:

  • Limited rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Massage therapy
  • Weight loss
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Corticosteroid injections

For many patients, these treatments are effective in relieving the pain and symptoms of a bulging disc after a couple months of consistent therapy. If these treatment methods are ineffective, however, you can explore the different surgical options available to you, including traditional open spine surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery.

Talk to your doctor about your treatment options for a bulging disc and take the next step toward spine health and wellness.