What is a bulging disc?

The spine is composed of vertebrae, muscles, ligaments, tendons and spinal discs. The discs are located in between each of the vertebrae and help to support the spine and absorb shock. The discs can become damaged through the natural aging process, a degenerative spine condition, injury or trauma. If the disc starts to bulge out of the normal space that it occupies and into the spinal canal, it is called a bulging disc. A bulging disc does not always cause symptoms and may resolve on its own. Many times though, the bulging disc compresses a nearby nerve root causing symptoms such as radiating pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling.

Bulging disc diagnosis from a primary care physician

If you suspect that you are suffering painful symptoms caused by a bulging disc, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she will work through the following steps in order to diagnose your condition:

  • Symptoms review.Your primary care physician will ask you several questions about your symptoms so he or she can better understand the symptoms you are experiencing. Your physician might ask questions such as, how long have you been experiencing symptoms, where are you experiencing pain, have symptoms progressed, and what does the pain feel like?
  • Physical examination.Your primary care physician will perform a physical examination to see if there are any physical manifestations of a bulging disc that he or she can feel or see. He or she may test your reflexes and muscle strength to determine if there are any neurological complications as well.
  • Medical history review.Your primary care physician will ask you to provide a medical history to help diagnose your condition. A medical history includes information about past illnesses, surgery, other conditions, your family’s medical history, and information about your overall health and fitness level.
  • Diagnostic testing. Depending on your condition and symptoms, your primary care physician may recommend diagnostic testing or imaging in order to further pinpoint the diagnosis.

Bulging disc treatment from a primary care physician

Once a bulging disc diagnosis has been confirmed, your primary care physician will recommend a combination of conservative treatment options. Conservative treatment options include:

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

If you have tried conservative treatment options for a bulging disc for a few months, and you find that symptoms are still interfering with your everyday life, talk to your primary care physician to learn more about surgical treatment options and to discuss a referral to a specialist.