The most common cause of a bulging disc is aging. With age, the shock-absorbing discs between the vertebrae lose water content, making them stiffer, flatter and more damage-prone. Due to this desiccation, a disc loses its natural elastic recoil. Any minor trauma increases pressure of the disc’s central core, stressing and stretching the outer fibrous ring, which may not return it to its original shape. When this cycle is repeated over an extended period of time, a balloon, or bulging disc, can result. If a disc bulge ruptures and allows the inner contents, or nucleus pulposus, of the bulging disc to seep out, the injury is called a ruptured disc or herniated disc. Bulging discs can begin in a person’s 20s and are very common in people who are in their 30s and 40s.
While bulging discs are often caused by degenerative changes as we age, there are other contributing factors which hasten this condition, such as:
- Working in an occupation that requires repetitive lifting, bending, standing and driving
- Improper lifting techniques
- Participation in contact sports
- Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Severe trauma, such as a car accident
- A family history of disc disease
A bulging disc can occur in the neck (cervical region), lower back (lumbar region) or, less commonly, in the mid-back (thoracic spine). Bulging discs usually remain asymptomatic unless they compress a spinal nerve rootlet or the spinal cord itself. Symptoms typically originate at the location of the damaged disc and travel along affected nerves. For example, a lumbar bulging disc can begin as an aching in the lower back and develop into shooting, burning pains that travel down the sciatic nerve to the buttocks, thighs and feet. This condition is also known as sciatica.
One of the minimally invasive surgical procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute is discectomy. This procedure can be used to treat a bulging disc and relieve the pain caused by nerve compression. Our surgeons, assisted by our excellent staff, have performed this procedure thousands of times, and it is a more effective alternative to open spine surgery. Please read our previous patient testimonials to understand how this procedure can start you on the path to pain relief.
If you have questions about bulging disc causes and whether our innovative procedures are appropriate for your neck or back condition, please contact us for your MRI review.