A bulging disc in the neck or back can cause debilitating pain, sometimes even making simple tasks like walking or driving almost impossible. By understanding what causes a bulging disc, you can begin to gear your daily lifestyle choices toward bulging disc prevention. These changes are not drastic or severe, but simple every day changes that can increase the overall health of your spine.
In some cases, preventing a bulging disc is not always possible. There are uncontrollable factors in the development of a bulging disc and other conditions that may override healthy lifestyle choices, such as age and genetics. In these cases, bulging disc prevention methods can still help to postpone the development of a bulging disc and other spine conditions.
What is a bulging disc?
A bulging disc develops when a disc in the spine is compressed by the two surrounding vertebrae, causing the disc to flatten and expand outward. This bulging can happen on one or both sides.
For some people, a bulging disc in the spine can go undetected and heal on its own. However, if the disc bulges out and compresses a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord itself, the following symptoms may develop:
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased reflexes
- Burning sensation
These symptoms can appear at the site of the bulging disc and compressed nerve, or they can travel the length of the nerve pathway into the associated arm or leg.
Tips for bulging disc prevention
Bulging disc prevention can take the form of simple daily choices that help promote a healthy lifestyle and a healthy spine.
The majority of bulging discs are considered “degenerative spine conditions”, which means they develop as the components of the spine wear down over time. While there are certain factors, like age and genetics, that are uncontrollable, many factors that wear down the spine prematurely can be addressed with small changes to daily choices.
The most common controllable factors of a bulging disc include:
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Participation in high-impact sports
In order to combat these risk factors for developing a bulging disk, you should adopt the following bulging disc prevention habits:
- Maintain a healthy weight — Your spine is not designed to carry excessive weight for large periods of time. Extra weight causes your spine to compress, which can lead to a bulging disc in the spine. This is especially true in the lumbar spine, which is responsible for supporting the majority of the body’s weight and movement.
- Diet — While diet is important for maintaining a healthy weight, it is also essential that your body receives the proper nutrients to maintain health and strength. Eating a balanced diet will help your discs stay hydrated and your bones and muscles stay strong — all elements that promote spine health.
- Exercise — Exercise is a great form of bulging disc prevention. By strengthening the core muscles (the muscles around the spine and abdominals), the muscles are able to help support the weight of the body. This relieves pressure on the spine, which reduces the wearing down of the discs and other components of the spine.
- Avoid or limit tobacco and alcohol use — The regular use of tobacco and alcohol dry out the discs in the spine, leaving them susceptible to damage with regular movements and daily activities.
- Hydration — Similarly, staying hydrated plays an important role in the health of the discs in the spine. Hydration helps maintain the elasticity in the annulus fibrosus of each disc, allowing the disc to absorb the shock of daily activities without bulging or herniating. While hydration is not the only factor to help prevent a bulging disc, it plays an important role.
- High-impact sports — While degenerative bulging discs develop over time, this condition can also develop suddenly as a result of injury or trauma. Certain sports like football, hockey and rugby can increase your risk of developing a bulging disc or other spine condition due to the frequency of high impacts in the sport. Understand your risk in playing high-impact sports, and talk to your doctor or coach about different techniques or equipment you can wear to help protect your spine during participation.
What to do if you develop a bulging disc
While bulging disc prevention methods are helpful to increase the overall health of the spine, sometimes bulging discs do still develop in spite of making all of the right lifestyle choices. This is often due to the two uncontrollable factors mentioned previously: age and genetics.
If you suspect you’ve developed a bulging disc despite your best prevention methods, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can run a series of tests to properly diagnose the cause of your pain and symptoms. If you are diagnosed with a bulging disc, your physician may recommend a series of conservative treatments to reduce the pain. Spine surgery is usually considered a last-resort method of treatment when nonsurgical methods have been exhausted.
Contact your doctor for more information about bulging disc prevention methods, and also for help with a nutrition plan and lifestyle plan to stop the use of tobacco or alcohol.