How bulging discs are related to the natural aging process

Spinal discs sit between the vertebrae, absorbing the shock that is placed on them every day. These discs have a soft, jellylike material in the center and a tougher layer of cartilage on the outside.

Healthy spinal discs allow our necks and backs to bend, twist and stretch smoothly. However, after years of pressure on the discs, the elastic outer layer 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

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

  • Weight gain — adds unnecessary pressure on the disc
  • Discs lose water and protein content, which leads to a reduction in 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 puts pressure on nervous tissue in the spine, such as the spinal cord or an exiting 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 (upper) bulging disc occurs in the neck. This can cause symptoms from the shoulders all the way to the fingers.
  • Thoracic (middle) bulging discs are located in the middle of the back and cause patients to experience symptoms 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 doctor if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. Though bulging discs are related to the natural aging process, there are still many treatment options available. Common conservative treatments include rest, physical therapy, hot/cold therapy and medication.

In many cases, pain from a bulging disc can improve over a period of weeks, especially with the help of conservative treatment options. But if your symptoms do not subside and surgery starts to become an option, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional procedures, offering our patients a shorter recovery time with less risk of complication.^

We can offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.

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