A bulging disc is a condition in which the outer layer of a spinal disc, known as the annulus fibrosis, bulges out past normal barriers. In most cases, this bulging doesn’t cause any issues for the person with the affected disc because it does not extend into a nerve root or the spinal cord. However, if it does end up putting pressure on a nerve, the symptoms that result can be truly debilitating and damage your quality of life.

A bulging disc is more common than you may think. Our spines handle a lot of pressure from supporting the upper torso. Due to the natural process of aging, the discs that cushion our spine dehydrate and weaken with normal wear and tear. Eventually the discs become more vulnerable and are more likely to bulge.

The symptoms of a bulging disc vary by person, but can include:

  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited mobility

Bulging disc nonsurgical treatments

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, consult your physician for a proper diagnosis. Fortunately, many bulging disc cases are easily treatable, or at least manageable, with nonsurgical methods. Some of the most commonly used nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Rest
  • Painkillers — both over-the-counter and prescription
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Alternating hot and cold compresses
  • Spinal decompression
  • Physical therapy

Before attempting any of these treatments, it’s very important to bring them up with your physician beforehand in order to avoid making your condition worse.

Bulging disc surgery options

Sometimes, conservative treatments are not enough to relieve the pain of a bulging disc. If your symptoms have not improved after at least a few weeks of using nonsurgical methods, surgery could become an option. Surgery can address the roots causes of the bulging disc but is usually only considered if more conservative treatments do not bring relief.

The two main options for surgical treatment are traditional open back surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery. Open spine procedures have traditionally been the default option the field of spine surgery, however, due to advances in medicine and laser science, patients have an effective alternative for treating bulging discs in the form of minimally invasive spine surgery.

While traditional open spine surgery usually involves large incisions, hospitalization and a lengthy recovery, minimally invasive spine surgery utilizes much smaller incisions and can be performed on an outpatient basis. As a result, these procedures are much less invasive than traditional open spine surgery and do not require a lengthy and difficult recovery.

Ask your doctor for more information about bulging discs and what treatment option would work best for you.