What is a bulging disc?
When a spinal disc bulges or protrudes out and into the spinal column it is called a bulging disc. The natural aging process, heavy lifting, contact sports, trauma or a genetic predisposition, can cause a bulging disc. The most common cause of a bulging disc is degenerative changes that occur in the spine as we age. The spinal discs become flatter and stiffer over time and lose the natural elasticity. Any amount of stress or pressure can cause the disc to flatten and bulge.
Bulging disc symptoms
For some people a bulging disc doesn’t cause any symptoms at all and can go undetected. For others, if the bulging disc compresses a surrounding nerve or the spinal cord, painful symptoms result. The typical symptoms of a bulging disc include local pain, radiating pain, numbness, loss of sensation and tingling. In addition to these symptoms, a bulging disc can also cause muscular symptoms.
The muscular symptoms of a bulging disc include the following:
- Muscle weakness. A bulging disc can cause muscle weakness if the disc is compressing a nerve root. A properly functioning nerve helps to send messages throughout the body. If a nerve is pinched or compressed it can’t function properly. The nerve may be unable to send normal signals to help control muscles. This can include the inability to move an affected portion of your body normally or a reduction in your overall ability to use your muscles when necessary.
- Muscle spasms. Muscle spasms caused by a bulging disc can happen in the neck or the back. As a result of pain and inflammation from a bulging disc, the muscles that support the spine can spasm. Additionally, the muscles in the spine can spasms as a response to micromotion instability. A damaged spinal disc is unable to absorb impact and shock for the spine, which creates micromotion instability. The muscles that support the spine try to mitigate the micromotion by spasming, which helps to restore some stability to the spine.
- Overactive reflexes. A bulging disc can also cause reflexes to be overactive or over-responsive. This can cause certain parts of the body to twitch or have spastic tendencies.
Bulging disc treatment options
If you are suffering from painful symptoms caused by a bulging disc, your physician will recommend a combination of conservative treatments to control symptoms. Conservative treatment includes rest, heat and ice therapy, exercise and stretching, pain medication, steroid injections and physical therapy.
If after a few months, conservative treatment has failed to provide symptom relief, bulging disc surgery may be necessary. If left untreated, a bulging disc can lead to permanent muscle and nerve damage. Minimally invasive bulging disc surgery can relieve painful bulging disc symptoms, such as muscle weakness, muscle spasms and overactive reflexes, while reducing the risk of infection and reducing the recovery period.