Bulging disc causes

The most common cause of a bulging disc is aging. With age, the shock-absorbing spinal discs lose water content, making them stiffer, flatter and more prone to damage. This causes a disc to lose 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 jellylike core of the bulging disc to seep out, the injury is called a ruptured or herniated disc. Bulging discs can happen to a person in their 20s but are more common in people in their 30s and 40s.

Other bulging disc causes

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 or 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

Symptoms and treatment

A bulging disc can occur in any part of the spine, but most commonly in the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) regions. Bulging discs usually remain asymptomatic unless they compress a nerve root 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 to the buttocks, thighs and feet. This condition is called sciatica if symptoms are caused by compression of the long sciatic nerve.

Treatment for a bulging disc usually begins with a course of conservative treatments prescribed by a physician, like over-the-counter medication, physical therapy or hot and cold compression. Surgery usually becomes an option if weeks or months of treatment do not bring lasting relief.

One of the minimally invasive surgical procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute is a 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 an alternative to traditional open spine surgery that offers our patients a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of complication. Please read our 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 procedures are appropriate for your neck or back condition, please contact us for your no-cost MRI review.*