How are degenerative disc disease and bulging discs related?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) and bulging discs will often be diagnosed at the same time, leaving many people to wonder about the relationship between these two conditions. Basically, DDD is an age-related condition that can often be the underlying cause of bulging discs. Over time — and with years of pressure from weight and movement — our discs become less flexible and lose water content, leading to degeneration.

Spinal disc deterioration happens to everyone to some extent and is not necessarily painful. However, more advanced degeneration, diagnosed as DDD, can lead to displacement of the discs through bulging or herniation that causes painful nerve compression. Learning more about spinal anatomy and the conditions that can develop is an important step in finding relief if these conditions are affecting your life. The following information is intended to help you work with your doctor more closely and learn about the full range of treatment options that can help you return to the people and activities you love.

What is a bulging disc?

A bulging disc occurs when the outer layer of a disc bulges out of its normal perimeter in the spinal column. The spinal discs lie between the vertebrae in the spinal column, absorbing shock and pressure to allow for basic movement. They are composed of two parts: a tough, elastic outer layer and a softer nucleus. A bulging disc occurs when a weakened or brittle outer layer is unable to contain the pressure pushing out from the nucleus and begins to push out.

A bulging disc can cause narrowing of the already tight nerve pathways in the spine, leading to a compressed nerve. Spinal nerve compression, sometimes called a pinched nerve, can cause numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and pain along the length of the nerve into seemingly unrelated areas of the body. For example:

  • Compression in the cervical (upper) spine causes symptoms to appear in the head, neck, shoulders, arms or hands.
  • Compression in the lumbar (lower) spine back can affect the lower back, hips, buttocks, legs or feet.

How are these conditions treated?

Many patients are able to find relief from the symptoms of degenerative disc disease and bulging discs through the use of nonsurgical treatment methods. This can include a combination of pain medication, physical therapy and lifestyle changes such as a weight-loss plan or quitting smoking. If symptoms persist for several weeks or months despite conservative treatment, a patient might be advised to undergo spine surgery.

If you are in this situation but have concerns about the risks that can come with traditional open spine procedures, reach out to the dedicated and caring team at Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional procedures, offering patients less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time.^

Contact us today to learn more and to get your no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

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