What is a bulging disc in the back?

While a bulging disc in the back, or a thoracic bulging disc, is the least common type of bulging disc, it is still possible and can be painful. Bulging discs in the neck and lower back are much more common as these areas of the spine support a large amount of weight and aid in flexibility and movement. The middle portion of the spine, or the thoracic spine, is attached to the rib cage and does not flex or bend in comparison to the neck and lower back. A bulging disc in the back happens when the spinal disc has flattened and expanded due to pressure from the adjacent vertebrae.

Symptoms of a bulging disc in the back

Pain and discomfort are the most common symptoms of a bulging disc in the back. A bulging disc in the back can also cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Upper back pain
  • Radiating pain that travels to the chest or belly
  • Radiating pain that travels to the shoulders and arms
  • Radiating pain that travels to the hips and legs
  • Abdominal pain
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Pain that is exacerbated when coughing or sneezing
  • Difficulty with balance and walking
  • Muscle weakness

Treatment for a bulging disc in the back

The majority of people that have a bulging disc in their back do not require surgery. Most people find that they can control symptoms and return to everyday activities once they start a combination of conservative treatment options. Conservative treatment options for a bulging disc in the back include:

  • Rest
  • Exercise and stretching
  • Heat and ice therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Steroid injections

Some patients with a bulging disc in the back have found complementary and alternative treatment options, such as chiropractic care, yoga, hydrotherapy and acupuncture, can help to control symptoms. Additionally, your physician may also encourage you to make lifestyle modifications such as losing weight, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake or avoiding contact and high-impact sports in order to avoid additional injury and improve your health status.

If you have tried conservative treatment options for a bulging disc in the back for a few months, and you find that symptoms are still interfering with your everyday life, your physician may recommend bulging disc surgery.