Bulging disc in the lower back — related symptoms

A bulging disc in the back happens when a lumbar (lower) spinal disc protrudes, or bulges, out of its normal radius. This is generally related to factors like aging, injury, posture or weight and is not necessarily painful. However, a bulging disc can become debilitating if it causes compression of a spinal nerve root, called radiculopathy. A particularly common, and difficult, form of radiculopathy caused by a bulging disc in the lower back is called sciatica.

Radiculopathy caused by a bulging disc

The term radiculopathy comes from the Latin words for root (radix) and suffering or disease (pathos) and refers to symptoms related to spinal nerve root compression. A bulging disc can cause radiculopathy if the misshapen disc presses on a nerve root.

Nerve roots branch off the spinal cord and exit the spinal column through openings in between vertebrae. These nerves carry motor and sensory signals between the brain and the rest of the body. If a bulging disc presses on a nerve root, it interferes with these signals and can cause painful and debilitating symptoms. These include:

  • Shooting pain along the nerve
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cramping and spasms

Sciatica and bulging discs in the lower back

Sciatica is a very common form radiculopathy caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the longest running and thickest nerve in the human body, starting in the lower back and traveling down both sides of the body through the hips, buttocks, legs and feet. If a bulging disc compresses this nerve root leading to sciatica, it can cause radiculopathic symptoms throughout the lower body, resulting in pain and severe difficulty walking.

Treatment for sciatica caused by a bulging disc in the lumbar spine usually begins with conservative treatments like pain medication and physical therapy. In fact, many patients are able to find sufficient relief for a return to normal functioning without ever having to resort to surgery.

If surgery becomes an option because weeks and months of conservative treatment have not brought the relief you need, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery, helping our patients enjoy a shorter recovery period.^

If you’d like to learn more, reach out to our team today. We offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.

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