If you have been diagnosed with a bulging disc, the first step in any treatment plan is to fully understand your condition and learn about the types of symptoms and treatment options. For your convenience, we have compiled some basic bulging disc information to get you started.
Causes of a bulging disc
Bulging discs are very common. In fact, there are more than 3 million cases in the United States each year. The condition can occur in your lumbar spine (lower back), thoracic spine (upper and mid-back) or your cervical spine (neck), but it is most common in the lumbar region. Our spines include discs that are made up of a tough fibrous material composing the outer layer and an inner layer filled with a gel-like material.
Over time, these discs weaken and dehydrate with normal wear and tear. As your discs begin to lose water, it is like letting air out of a tire and the sides begin to bulge past the normal barriers. Sometimes the bulging extends into a nerve root or the spinal cord and the added pressure can cause extreme pain and other symptoms.
A traumatic injury, added stress to the back from posture or heavy lifting and other lifestyle choices can cause a bulging disc, although bulging discs are often a result of the natural aging process.
The difference between a bulging, herniated and slipped disc
Many people believe that a herniated disc and a bulging disc are the same condition. Even though both of these conditions may cause some of the same painful symptoms, there are differences between the two conditions. When a disc is herniated, the gel-like inner material is released through a break in the disc and spills into the spinal canal. 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. A bulging disc can also be commonly referred to as a slipped disc or a protruding disc, but the disc does not actually slip.
Fortunately, there are many noninvasive treatments for a bulging disc that are effective in relieving symptoms. These conservative treatments include additional rest, pain medication, physical therapy, hot/cold compresses, exercise and others. Consult with your physician to determine the best course of treatment.
If these treatments fail to provide you with adequate pain relief, your physician may recommend surgery. The two main options for surgical treatment are traditional open neck and back surgery or 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 is typically 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.