Finding a concise and accurate bulging disc definition can be tricky; after all, the terms bulging disc and protruding disc are synonyms, while a herniated disc—a completely different condition—sounds very similar. There are basic characteristics that set a bulging disc apart from other conditions, however.
The spine gets its strength from the structure of the individual vertebrae comprising it. To absorb shock and protect the vertebrae from wear and tear, they are separated from one another by tough, spongy intervertebral discs. However, these discs absorb so much shock that they may occasionally weaken, allowing the viscous fluid inside to exert pressure on the fibrous walls of the disc. When this occurs, the disc may protrude beyond the outer limits of the vertebrae—a condition known as a bulging or protruding disc. In contrast, a herniated disc involves the extrusion of the disc’s inner fluid into the spinal column.
Bulging discs can happen to anyone. They are often exacerbated by the process of aging, which dries out the intervertebral discs and makes them more brittle; they may occur as a result of an injury, perhaps incurred while lifting something improperly. Our discs are typically very strong, but continual wear coupled with other factors (e.g., obesity, dehydration, smoking, physical activity) can gradually—or, at times, suddenly—break down the outer walls of the disc and allow the fluid inside to leak into the spinal column.
Symptoms and Treatment
Bulging discs can often go unnoticed for long periods of time. In themselves, they are not painful, and often will heal over time, especially under a conservative treatment program. They can cause issues, however, when they bulge into the spinal canal and put pressure on the spinal cord, or if they compress one of the spinal nerve roots. Common symptoms of such a condition include:
Bulging discs respond well to conservative treatment, including lifting restrictions, physical therapy, hot/cold compresses, and pain/anti-inflammatory medicine. They rarely require surgery unless they result in a herniated disc—and even then, conservative treatment is usually very effective.
If you are suffering from a bulging or herniated disc and conservative treatment has not been effective for you, it may be time to consider a surgical option. That is why Laser Spine Institute is here: to address the source of your back pain in the most efficient, minimally invasive manner possible: laser-assisted endoscopic spine procedures that can have you out the door in a matter of hours. If your doctor has recommended surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute today. We will gladly review your MRI or CT scan at no charge.
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