Bulging disc symptoms vary by location in the spine

Bulging disc symptoms occur when a weakened spinal disc bulges out of its normal perimeter in the spine and puts pressure on a nerve. This pressure can send pain signals along the length of the affected nerve as well as disrupt the transmission of sensory information, resulting in pain, numbness and tingling in various areas of the body. These symptoms can have a serious impact on your life, affecting time with family, work or leisure activities.

Many patients dealing with bulging disc symptoms are able to find pain relief and a return to normal activity with conservative treatment options, avoiding the need for surgery. If you or someone you know is dealing with a bulging disc, learning more about how symptoms are caused can be an important step in the treatment process. The following information is intended to help you better work with a doctor or specialist to develop a care plan to give you the best chance of returning to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Cervical, thoracic and lumbar bulging discs

A bulging disc and the resulting symptoms can originate in any of three spinal regions that have spinal discs. These regions are the cervical (upper), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) with the nerve roots in each region branching off and traveling to different locations in the body. This means bulging disc symptoms can vary by region of the spine. Here is an overview of how these spinal regions can affect symptoms:

  • Cervical bulging disc. Symptoms of nerve root compression in the cervical spine can include pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. Spinal cord compression in the cervical spine can result in myelopathy, a group of symptoms that can include difficulty walking, a feeling of heaviness in the legs and loss of fine motor skills in the fingers.
  • Thoracic bulging disc. The thoracic area of the spine spans from the collar bone to the end of the rib cage and consists of 12 vertebrae. Bulging discs are less common in the thoracic region, but when they do occur, the symptoms can include pain in the upper back that sometimes radiates to the chest or stomach. The nature of these symptoms can lead a patient to incorrectly suspect a problem with the heart, lungs or gastrointestinal tract, so it is important to promptly consult with a physician to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
  • Lumbar bulging disc. Spanning from the waist to the hips, the lumbar region of the spine includes five, or sometimes six, vertebrae. Lumbar disc problems are a widespread cause of lower back pain, which can be dull, sharp or burning and radiate to the hips, buttocks, legs and feet. Lumbar bulging discs can also result in weakness, numbness and tingling in the legs, as well as muscle spasms. Symptoms of a lumbar bulging disc can worsen with coughing, sneezing and bending. When a lumbar bulging disc exerts pressure on the sciatic nerve, the resulting symptoms are commonly referred to as sciatica. In rare cases, patients with a lumbar bulging disc might experience a loss of bladder or bowel control. If this happens, the patient should go to the emergency room immediately, as bladder or bowel incontinence can indicate cauda equina syndrome, a condition requiring immediate surgery.

Surgery for the treatment of bulging disc symptoms

The board-certified+ surgeons at Laser Spine Institute perform minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open neck or back procedures. By using a less than 1-inch incision and other muscle-sparing techniques, we can treat spine conditions like bulging and herniated discs while offering patients a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication than a traditional open spine surgery.

If you are considering surgery to relieve bulging disc symptoms because you have exhausted conservative treatment options, contact Laser Spine Institute. We offer a no-cost MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.

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