A bulging disc occurs when one of the spine’s cushioning discs is placed under excessive pressure, causing the disc to bulge out in one direction and potentially irritate the spinal cord or surrounding nerves. This common problem can prompt symptoms that range from hardly noticeable to debilitating. If left untreated, a bulging disc may rupture, forcing the disc’s soft, gel-like interior to seep out into the spinal canal. Unlike many other degenerative spinal conditions that appear later in age, bulging discs are often seen in younger adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
What causes a bulging disc?
As we age, spinal discs lose elasticity and water content, causing them to become more susceptible to injury. In addition to the body’s natural aging process, common bulging disc causes include:
- Participating in high-impact exercises
- Working in an occupation that requires frequent lifting, standing or bending
- Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption
- Trauma, such as a sports injury or car accident
- A family history of degenerative spine diseases
What are the symptoms of a bulging disc?
The symptoms of a bulging disc will vary depending on the severity of the injury and where it is located in the spine. For instance, an individual with a bulging disc in the lower back (lumbar spine) may experience muscle weakness and tingling sensations, while someone with an injured disc in the neck (cervical spine) may have difficulty walking and moving the hands and fingers.
Generally speaking, bulging disc symptoms include localized or radiating pain, decreased mobility, muscle spasms or weakness and numbness in one or more extremities due to nerve compression.
How is a bulging disc diagnosed and treated?
Most people with persistent back pain begin by consulting with their primary care doctor, who may recommend a series of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of symptoms. If a bulging disc is identified, most doctors will suggest a combination of conservative treatments to help manage pain and increase mobility. Common bulging disc treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Prescription or over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and inflammation
- Weight loss, avoidance of strenuous activities and other lifestyle changes
- Epidural steroid injections
- Heat and ice compression
- Regular stretching and gentle exercise
Do I need surgery?
Many people with bulging discs don’t require surgery. However, those who have not been able to find relief from severe symptoms with conservative therapies may be considered candidates for surgical treatment.
Led by a team of renowned, board-certified surgeons+, Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia offers minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open spine surgery for patients with severe pain and dysfunction caused by bulging discs. These advanced procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and only require a less than 1-inch incision.
Contact Laser Spine Institute today to receive a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.