If you have been experiencing localized pain in your neck or back, radiating pain, muscle weakness, numbness or tingling you might have a bulging disc.

In order to diagnose your condition, your physician will perform a medical history review, physical examination and symptoms review. If, after the examination, your physician suspects that a bulging disc is the cause of your symptoms, he or she may order diagnostic testing in order to confirm the diagnosis and pinpoint the affected area.

Bulging disc diagnostic tests

Once your physician has completed a physical exam, symptoms review, and medical history review, he or she may order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to pinpoint or confirm the bulging disc diagnosis:

  • X-radiation (X-ray). An X-ray is a diagnostic tool that allows physicians to look at the bony structures of the body but does not capture soft tissues, nerves or discs. X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to create shadows of the bone on film. A lead apron is draped over the patient to minimize exposure to radiation. If your physician sees any abnormalities or spine conditions on the X-ray film it can be an indication that your pain is caused by a bulging disc or pinched nerve.
  • Computerized tomography scan (CT scan). A CT scan is the combination of an x-ray and a computer that shows cross sections of the spine. A CT scan uses a computer to combine multiple X-ray images taken from different angles.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI provides images of the soft tissues of the body, allowing physicians to assess the spinal nerves and discs. An MRI uses magnetic and radio waves to produce the detailed images of the inside of the body. The procedure is non-invasive and typically lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Discogram. A discogram allows your physician to see which areas of a specific disc are damaged and contributing to painful symptoms. Radiographic dye is injected into the damaged disc. The dye moves through the disc and gathers in any cracks in the tough outer layer.
  • Electromyography (EMG). During an EMG a small needle is inserted through the skin and into various muscles. An EMG evaluates whether the electrical activity of your muscles, at rest and contracted, is functioning properly or if there is nerve damage that could be caused by a bulging disc.
  • Nerve conduction study. A nerve conduction study measures electrical impulses and the functioning of your muscles and nerves. Electrodes are placed on your skin and then send small currents through the nerves to measure whether or not they are functioning properly.

Once diagnostic testing is complete and a bulging disc diagnosis has been confirmed, your physician will discuss conservative treatment options and surgical options to alleviate your pain.