How to define a bulging disc

A bulging disc is defined as a disc in the spine that has flattened and expanded — or bulged — into the spinal canal. This is commonly caused by continual pressure from the surrounding vertebrae pressing against the disc and causing it to lose shape and height.

A common misconception about bulging discs is that they always produce back pain and other symptoms. However, a bulging disc or any other damaged disc only results in symptoms of pain when it presses against a nerve near the spine. For many people, the body heals a damaged disc through the natural resorption process before any symptoms of pain are experienced.

While there are some factors of a bulging disc that are outside of your control — for example, the natural aging process that breaks down the discs — there are other risk factors that can be avoided through lifestyle changes. Understanding how a bulging disc develops may help you avoid this condition in the future.

How a bulging disc develops

Discs in the spine act as cushions for the vertebrae, allowing them to pivot and move without colliding with one another. Each heavy step or movement that jars the spine is absorbed by the discs in order to protect the structure and alignment of the vertebrae.

In order to maintain the proper space and cushion in the spine, the discs have an elastic outer layer that helps keep the disc in place despite the constant pushing and pressure from surrounding vertebrae. As the body moves or bends, the vertebrae press against the disc, causing the disc height to collapse and the inner disc fluid to press against the outer wall. However, the elasticity in the outer wall holds the inner fluid in place and helps the disc snap back into shape once the vertebrae have returned to their natural position.

By the time most people reach their late 30s or early 40s, the discs have begun to lose their effectiveness as spinal “shock absorbers.” As the body ages, the discs begin to dehydrate and become brittle. This deterioration causes the discs to lose height, and their ability to support and separate the vertebrae diminishes. The elasticity in the outer layer of the disc begins to wear down, and the pressure from the vertebrae can cause the disc to expand outward. This condition is a bulging disc, though it may also be referred to as a protruding disc, a slipped disc or a ruptured disc.

Treating a bulging disc

Once you and your physician have managed to diagnose a bulging disc as the cause of your symptoms, the next step is to determine how to treat the condition.

Many patients can manage the pain and symptoms of a bulging disc with a series of physician-recommended pain medicine, exercise, stretching, corticosteroid injections and other conservative treatment methods.

Only when all conservative treatment methods have been exhausted and have not provided relief after several weeks or months will a physician typically recommend elective surgery as an option for bulging disc patients. If that happens to you, we encourage you to research the minimally invasive surgery options at Laser Spine Institute.

Our minimally invasive spine surgery offers patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery. Because our procedures do not require large incisions or the cutting of the large muscles in the back, our patients can experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of infection or complication.

For patients with a bulging disc a minimally invasive spine surgery may be an effective treatment option, depending on the location and severity of the condition. Our minimally invasive decompression surgery removes a small piece of the bulging disc to release pressure on the pinched nerve, while our stabilization surgery replaces the damaged disc with an artificial one to stabilize the spine. For many patients, a decompression surgery is an appropriate method of treatment for a bulging disc, though some patients with severe disc damage may require a stabilization surgery.

To take the next step toward pain relief, contact Laser Spine Institute and request a review of your MRI report or CT scan to see if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive spine surgeries.

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