What is a bulging disc
A bulging disc is a condition related to the spine, most often in the lumbar region (lower back) and occurs when a disc bulges out of its normal place in the spine. Discs are a soft, circular, jellylike material that cushions the vertebrae. When these discs weaken, they can lose their ability to cushion and protect the vertebrae.
Most cases of a bulging disc do not cause pain unless the disc becomes herniated or protrudes into a nerve. Depending on the location of the bulging disc, pain can radiate to the shoulders and arms or to the hips and legs.
Cause of a herniated or bulging disc
There are some key differences between a herniated and bulging disc. When a disc is herniated, the gel-like inner material is released through a break in the disc. With a bulging disc, there is no actual break or tear in the disc’s wall, but rather the inner material begins to bulge out through a weakened area of the disc.
Despite these differences, herniated and bulging discs share many of the same causes. Your personal bulging disc cause will depend on a range of factors, but age is often the main cause of a bulging disc. When the discs lose some of their ability to act as cushions, it is most often due to loss of water content. As we age, our discs dehydrate and lose water. Our discs also weaken over time from regular wear and tear.
When the disc loses water content and weakens, the disc collapses resulting in the two vertebrae above and below the disc moving closer together. The result is a narrowing of the disc space between the two vertebrae. This narrowing may lead to more stress and tears as the cycle repeats itself. Injury, lifestyle and genetics are other main causes of a bulging disc. Like aging, these causes sometimes cannot be avoided.
The dos and don’ts when experiencing a bulging disc
Because you may not be able to avoid the causes of a bulging disc, the following dos can help lower your chances of developing one. If you already have a bulging disc, these types can expedite your recovery.
- Exercises to increase range of motion of the spine
- Exercises to strengthen the spinal flexors and extensors
- Gentle stretches for the spinal extensors
- Practice proper sitting and standing posture
- Practice proper lifting techniques by reducing stress or strain on the lumbar spine
- It is recommended that exercises combining flexion (bending) and rotation or exerting a downward, twisting pressure on the spine are avoided
- Refrain from any type of exercise that causes pain from the back to extremities of the body
Helpful hints to avoid damaging a disc at work
If your job involves heavy lifting or any increased pressure on the spine, over time your spine may become more susceptible to a bulging disc. There are some small measure you can use at your workspace to ease the tension on your spine:
- Have an ergonomically designed workstation
- Practice good posture to ensure joints are supported against the forces of gravity, ensuring muscles are under minimal tension
- When sitting, it is important that hips are positioned slightly higher than the knees to take pressure off the lower back
- Ensure the lumbar (lower) area is supported — stress on the lumbar discs can lead to bulging or slipped discs — a small pillow or ergonomic chair cushion will give support where needed
- If possible, use a headset with your phone — the phone/neck cradle is the most common faulty posture and increases muscle tension throughout the neck — keep your head in a neutral position as often as possible
- Do not twist your back to reach for something — position, wherever possible, equipment in front of you i.e., fax, keyboard, printer, telephone, stationary supplies, etc.
- Use your feet to rotate your body if you sit in a chair that swivels
- Do not sit for a prolonged period of time — stand up approximately every 30 minutes to get the blood flowing through your body
- Stretch or take a short walk around the office to relieve tension and reduce stress
To learn more about what may be causing your bulging disc and ways to prevent it from getting worse, speak to your physician about developing a personalized treatment plan.