Bulging discs and the aging process

Spinal discs act as cushions, sitting between each of our vertebrae. These discs have a soft, jellylike material in the center and a tough layer of cartilage on the outside.

Healthy spinal discs allow our necks and backs to bend, twist and stretch without pain. However, after years of repetitive movements and weight gain adding pressure on the disc, the elastic outer layer of the disc can begin to weaken. This weakened outer layer, coupled with a constant pressure on the disc from the surrounding vertebrae, can cause the disc to flatten and expand outward. This is called a bulging disc.

Though there are several factors that can cause a bulging disc, the most common cause is the natural deterioration and weakening of the spine with age.

How age can cause a bulging disc

A spinal disc often becomes more fragile and less elastic as we age. Once the tough, outer portion of a disc weakens, the soft material on the inside has the opportunity to shift out of place, causing a bulging disc.

Discs can be affected by several circumstances as we age, such as:

  • Weight gain — adds unnecessary pressure on the disc
  • Discs dehydrate and lose height
  • Dehydrated discs may also lose elasticity and become brittle
  • Years of movement can stretch and make the discs misshapen

All of these factors can leave a disc more susceptible to bulging or becoming damaged. However, a bulging disc does not naturally cause pain. Pain and symptoms only develop when a bulging disc pinches a nerve root.

Symptoms and locations

A bulging disc can cause pain, numbness and tingling when it applies pressure to the nerves of the spine. Where these symptoms are experienced will depend on the location of the bulging disc, for example:

  • A cervical bulging disc occurs in the neck. This can cause symptoms from the shoulders all the way to the fingers.
  • Thoracic bulging discs are located in the middle of the back and cause patients to experience symptoms anywhere in the torso, including the ribs.
  • A lumbar bulging disc occurs in the lower back. Symptoms are often felt in the feet, legs, buttocks and lower back. This condition can also lead to the development of sciatica.

What to do next

Talk to your physician if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. Though bulging discs are sometimes a result of the natural aging process, there are still many treatment options available. Popular conservative treatments include rest, physical therapy and pain medication.

In most cases, pain from a bulging disc will lessen in a few weeks, but if your symptoms do not subside, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures can help you find relief from neck and back pain. We can offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.

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