Bulging disc

What is a Bulging disc?

Discs are the shock-absorbing rings of fibrocartilage and glycoprotein that separate vertebrae in your spine. These facilitate movement at each spinal level. As we get older or strain the disc, through improper posture or injury, the disc’s shell can weaken and lose its shape, causing the disc to bulge into the spinal canal. This is what we call a bulging disc. As the disc moves, its inner, liquid-like nucleus begins to balloon toward the weakest point in its hard outer casing.

Bulging disc image

Although there is typically little or no pain associated with a bulging disc, the affected disc may eventually suffer a herniation, which means that its inner nucleus may leak through the damaged shell causing pain and further complications. Bulging discs may also place pressure on nearby nerves, leading to serious discomfort and, in some cases, severe and chronic pain.

 

Bulging Discs: Symptoms

The symptoms associated with bulging discs generally begin to emerge only when the disc sets other problems into motion. Here are some indicators:

  • Pain or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands or fingers can signal a bulging disc in the cervical (upper spine) area. If you begin to have trouble walking, feel heavy in the legs or lose motor skills, seek emergency assistance as this may be evidence of life-threatening damage to the spinal cord.
  • Pain in the upper back that radiates to the chest or stomach can signal a thoracic (mid-spine) bulging disc. It is important to determine the root of these symptoms as they may also warn of heart, lung or gastrointestinal failure.
  • Muscle spasms and lower back pain may be evidence of a bulging disc in the lumbar (lower back) region. Because this area holds so much of the upper body’s weight, approximately 90% of all bulging discs occur in the lumbar spine. Sometimes this discomfort spreads to the buttocks, thighs and feet. When a bulging disc pressures the sciatic nerve, it can result in sciatica. This condition usually manifests as pain that emanates down one leg, but not the other. If you experience a loss of bladder control, seek medical assistance immediately as this may mean a bulging disc is compressing the cauda equina nerve bundle.

 

Bulging Discs: Causes

If you suspect you might be suffering from a bulging disc, take action before it ruptures and cause further damage to the body. The first step toward treating a bulging disc is identifying its causes.

Bulging discs generally develop because of:

  • Degenerative Disc Disease - As we age, the discs in our spinal column become less structurally sound and their water content declines. These changes make discs vulnerable to bulges and other complications. Certain factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle or smoking may accelerate the corrosion of disc material.
  • General Wear and Tear - Discs and vertebrae deteriorate over the years due to our bodies’ natural aging process. When discs are strained or the distribution of weight around them changes, they may begin to emerge.
  • Injury or Trauma - For the most part, herniated discs are associated with immediate injury, while bulging discs emerge slowly. However, an accident or sudden trauma can occasionally cause a long-term injury that disrupts the spinal system eventually causing a bulging disc.
  • Bad Posture - Standing, sitting or sleeping in an improper manner can strain the neck and back, which can eventually lead to a bulging disc. In order to have a good posture you must keep your body aligned. While sitting, rest with your back straight and your shoulders back. Use a lumbar roll, pillow or towel to support your lower back and try to avoid remaining in one position for extended periods of time. Sleeping on your side, sometimes with a pillow between the knees for added support, generally yields positive results for a healthy spine.
  • Occupational Hazards - If your job requires repetitive lifting, bending, standing and/or driving, you may be at risk for a bulging disc. Improperly carrying heavy objects may also result in a swollen disc. The safest way to pick up objects is to keep your back straight and use your leg muscles, instead of bending forward and relying upon your arms and back to raise significant weight.

Men and women who participate in contact sports or have a family history of disc disease need to be especially aware of the signs and symptoms of a bulging disc. Obese men and women are also at risk of developing bulging discs. Additionally, wearing shoes with no orthopedic support while running can place stress on the spine and increase your chances of developing a bulging disc.

 

Bulging Discs: Non-Surgical Treatment Options

If you believe you may be suffering from a bulging disc, there are many ways to get a professional opinion and obtain a diagnosis.Our team of spine specialists offers pain mapping procedures, which use numbing medication to pinpoint the exact location of your discomfort. We may also recommend undergoing imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI.

Depending upon the underlying causes behind your condition and the extent of your symptoms, conservative treatment may be sufficient to regulate your bulging disc. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, professional massages, ice packs, heating pads, physical therapy, and a change in lifestyle can often reduce or completely eliminate disc-related pains.

 

Bulging Discs: Minimally Invasive Treatment Options

Discs in sensitive locations or that appear to be close to herniation may need minimally invasive surgery. These procedures use advanced techniques and state-of-the-art technology to remove and correct spinal difficulties. Unlike traditional open surgery, minimally invasive surgery usually only requires minor recovery time and reduces the likelihood of scarring, trauma, and blood loss. Our highly acclaimed surgeons offer a number of procedures to relief bulging discs.

After undergoing minimally invasive surgery, patients are generally advised to implement a moderate activity routine to strengthen muscles and avoid future back problems. Talk to your doctor about low impact exercises appropriate for those with bulging discs, such as aerobic swimming or restorative yoga. If you feel any pain or discomfort while working out, immediately stop exercising and rest.

Finding early solutions in a bulging disc’s trajectory can prevent that pain worsens and that it becomes a debilitating injury. Schedule an appointment with one of our spine experts today to begin treating your protruding disc, so that you can freely and painlessly pursue the things you love. Visit one of our nearby Dallas-Fort Worth locations or fill out the form on this page for more information. We look forward to helping you!


 

About Us

The first in Texas to perform micro-endoscopic laser spine surgery with an incision as small as 3 mm, Dr. Won advises multiple international spine technology companies and has helped design many groundbreaking tools for the minimally invasive spine surgery industry.

Dr. Won also innovated the Pain Mapping procedures, this diagnostic study helps to pin point the pain generator so that we can provide the least invasive spine procedures, LuMINI.

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