FAQ’s on Bulging Disc
A spinal disc is a small sponge-like sac of fluid located in the space between each pairing of spinal vertebrae. Spinal discs act like a cushion during movement of the spine, creating the range of motion that allows a patient to freely flex and bend their spine. The fluid of a disc sac can be lost gradually over time, resulting in an over-all weakened disc that becomes more susceptible to injury. One of the most common injuries occurring to a disc is for the disc to begin bulging due to internal pressure pushing the walls of the disc outwards.
It is possible for a patient to be experiencing pain from a disc and not even know the disc is a source, and some patients may have a damaged disc that is producing no symptoms at all. Typically however, patients with a damaged disc will have pain that radiates out from the disc and may have additional symptoms of the bulged disc is affecting any local tissue – such as nerves. Over 90% of the bulging discs treated by our clinic are located in the lumbar back, making a bulging disc one of the most common causes of low back pain in patients. The full extent of what a bulging or degenerating disc may cause for patients is explained in (Influence of degenerative changes of intervertebral disc on its material properties and pathology, 2012)
What are the causes of a Bulging Disc?
Bulging discs tend to have a singular cause of occurrence: a weakening of the discs outer walls and the inability to fully contain internal disc pressure any longer. In many cases, weakening has occurred primarily from degradation of the walls due to age. There are certain activities patients may perform that can increase the rate of degradation, such as a repeated twisting or bending of the spine or repetitive straining of the back due to certain job requirements.
Both arthritic damage and the lasting effects of disc degeneration can result in weakening and bulging as well. The full extent of lumbar disc degeneration and its connection to low back pain can be found in the following research (The non-invasive investigation of lumbar disc degeneration in patients with chronic low back pain, 1989)
What are the symptoms of a Bulging Disc?
The symptoms a patient will experience will differ based on what portion of the spine the bulging disc is located, with the primary difference in symptoms occurring between the cervical and lumbar discs. Discs located in the lumbar region of the spine will normally cause lower back pain for patients, but may also result in pain or weakness felt in the buttocks and legs based on if one or more spinal nerve roots have been pinched or compressed by the bulging discs.
In cases where a cervical disc is bulging, pain and stiffness are likely to occur in the neck of a patient. In the event of an afflicted spinal nerve root, patients may feel numbness, weakness, or pain in the shoulders or arms.
How is a Bulging Disc diagnosed?
The most effective tool in diagnosis a bulging disc is to perform a discogram for the patient, which is the injection of liquid into the disc. In many cases, if the disc being examined is the primary source of pain this liquid injection will produce symptoms very similar to what patients were experiencing prior. If this is the case, it can be reliably concluded that the disc being examined is the root source of pain for the patient.
What are the treatment options for a Bulging Disc?
The available treatments depend on which symptoms are present and the severity of the bulging discs. In many cases, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication are given as conservative treatments. Some patients may require a therapeutic nerve block or corrective surgery to obtain their desired levels of relief. For more severe or complex cases surgery can be an option: 94% with posterior operations and 80% of patients who had anterior operations had “excellent” results (Long-Term Results of Anterior versus Posterior Operations for Herniated Cervical Discs: Analysis of 6,000 Patients, 2013) and 48.1% with fusion.