If you have been diagnosed with a bulging disc you might be wondering what a bulging disc is, what your treatment options are and whether or not you will need surgery.

What is a bulging disc?

The spine is supported and cushioned by spinal discs. The tough outer layer can become brittle, flattened and susceptible to damage due to the aging process and wear and tear on the spine. When the disc becomes compressed and protrudes out of the normal space it occupies between the vertebrae out into the spinal canal, it is called a bulging disc. If the bulging disc compresses a nearby nerve root you may experience symptoms such as localized pain, radiating pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.

Nonsurgical bulging disc treatment

The majority of bulging disc patients do not require surgical intervention to manage symptoms. Most patients find that they can control symptoms and return to everyday activity with a combination of conservative treatment options. Treatment for a bulging disc typically starts with a combination of conservative options including:

  • Rest. For some patients, the “best medicine” is rest. Allowing the affected area time to heal and avoiding strenuous activity can be effective treatment for a bulging disc.
  • Heat and ice therapy. Alternating between heat therapy and ice therapy can aid in healing, increase blood flow to the affected area and reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Exercise and stretching. A combination of exercise and stretching can benefit a bulging disc. Low impact activities such as walking, swimming, the stationary bike and the elliptical trainer all minimize impact on the spine while improving your overall health status.
  • Pain medication. Over-the-counter pain medication can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Your physician may also prescribe stronger pain relievers or muscle relaxants.
  • Physical therapy. A physical therapist will teach you targeted stretches, exercises and positions that can help increase your range of motion and decrease pain. Some therapists incorporate therapeutic massage to lengthen the spine and decrease pain as well.
  • Steroid injections. Many patients find that steroid injections can provide lasting relief from painful bulging disc symptoms. The injection can help to reduce swelling and inflammation and reduce inflammatory proteins from the affected area.
  • Lifestyle modification. Your physician may recommend that you modify lifestyle factors such as losing excess weight, avoiding contact and high-impact activities, reducing alcohol intake or quitting smoking.
  • Alternative and complementary treatments. Some patients find symptom relief with options such as yoga, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, herbal therapy and chiropractic care.

After a few months of conservative treatment, if symptoms are still disrupting your everyday life, consult with your physician about more aggressive therapies or bulging disc surgery. Although most patients find relief from bulging disc symptoms with conservative treatment, some do require surgical intervention to manage symptoms and avoid permanent nerve and muscle damage.