What is a bulging disc in the lower back?
If a physician has told you that you have a bulging disc in the lower back, it means that one of the discs in your lower (lumbar) spine has become misshapen and is protruding outside of its normal boundary. From your neck to your lower back, your spine is constructed of individual bones called vertebrae, and each vertebra is held to the next by a disc made of tough connective tissues. Discs are normally flexible and strong, enabling them to support the spine and its many movements. However, since discs are made of soft tissue, they are prone to injury and degeneration. One of the common problems a disc can experience is bulging.
A bulging disc in the lower back can develop for a number of reasons. In fact, many people experience bulging discs without knowing that there is an issue. In most cases, a bulging disc only becomes problematic when it either compresses a nearby nerve or it impedes regular movement in the neck or back. With that said, if bulging disc symptoms do not heal on their own over the course of several weeks, it may indicate the presence of more advanced spinal degeneration that will warrant further treatment.
The symptoms and treatments of a bulging disc
When a patient has a bulging disc in the lower back, it may cause symptoms that are localized near the disc. However, if the disc touches the sciatic nerve – the longest and thickest nerve in the body – it can lead to symptoms that radiate along the path of the nerve as it travels through the buttocks, the back of both legs and the bottom of the feet. This can sometimes make diagnosing a bulging disc challenging because if a person has leg pain, they may not intuitively think that an issue in the back is to blame. That’s where medical imagery and a consultation with a spine specialist can be so valuable. Rather than wasting time attempting to address symptoms and not the root cause of the issue, it makes sense to work with a spine physician who can correctly identify the source of the problem, determine the best course of action and put the patient on a targeted treatment plan.
A bulging disc can be treated a number of different ways. However, in order to find the right treatment plan for the patient, a certain degree of trial and error should be expected. Generally speaking, treatment may be attempted with:
- Conservative, nonsurgical techniques, including the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, low-impact exercise and hot/cold compresses
- Complementary or alternative medicine, which may entail techniques like deep tissue massage, acupuncture or the use of holistic remedies
- Surgical intervention to remove part of all of the bulging disc in order to achieve nerve decompression
For patients who are considering bulging disc surgery, there are many options available. Traditional open spine surgery is offered in a hospital setting and often entails several days of hospitalization and a long road to recovery. At Laser Spine Institute, we offer an alternative in the many minimally invasive spine procedures that we perform. Our techniques are completed on an outpatient basis and come with many advantages over traditional open spine surgical treatments, including a shorter recovery time.^ To see if you might be a candidate for one of our state-of-the-art procedures, contact us today.