FAQ’s on Bulging Disc
What is a Bulging Disc?
The discs of the spine are soft, sponge-like structures housed in-between the vertebrae of the spine. They serve to provide cushion to the vertebrae during movement, allowing the spine to bend and flex freely. Spinal discs are small sacs that contain fluid, which can be lost over time making the disc more susceptible to injury. One of the most common spinal disc injuries is for the disc to bulge due to pressure stemming from the core of the disc that pushes the outside walls of it beyond their normal shape.
It is entirely possible to have a bulging disc and not be aware of it, as not every afflicted disc will cause symptoms to appear for patients. Patients who do experience symptoms are likely to have pain radiating from the location of the disc, and may have other symptoms based on if the bulging disc is compressing a local spinal nerve root. Approximately 90% of bulging discs are located in the lumbar region of the spine, making it one of the most common causes of lower back pain.
What are the causes of a Bulging Disc?
The primary cause of a bulging disc is the weakening in the outside walls of the disc. For many patients, this has occurred simply from general degradation of the disc due to time. There are specific actions which can accelerate the rate of this degeneration however, which include repeated bending or twisting of the spine or repeated straining of the lower back during certain occupations. Another common cause of disc deterioration is arthritis.
What are the symptoms of a Bulging Disc?
The symptoms present with a bulging disc will be primarily based on where the disc is located in the spine, with specific symptoms attributed to lumbar and cervical discs. Discs located in the cervical region of the spine can cause pain and stiffness of the neck, and may also cause weakness or feelings of numbness in the arms and hands if a nerve root is compressed by the bulging disc. Pain caused by a bulging disc is likely to be localized at the spot of the damaged disc and radiate out into the surrounding tissue.
Patients with bulging lumbar discs are likely to experience pain in the lower back, and may also experience stiffness of the spine during movement. If weakness or numbness is felt in the buttocks or legs, it is likely that a surrounding spinal nerve has been compressed by the bulging disc.
How is a Bulging Disc diagnosed?
The exact method of diagnosing the disc will be based on where the disc is located, which is indicated by the symptoms a patient is exhibiting. If nerve damage seems to be present, diagnosis will also include functional tests of the potentially affected nerves. A thorough physical examination of the patient, combined with a summary of their medical history and the events preceding the pain will also be conducted. Imaging techniques to view the spine are also common diagnostic tools, with X-rays used to examine the spine for damage and MRI’s used to examine the soft tissue and nerves.
The single most effective diagnostic tool used is a discogram, which involves the injection of liquid into a potentially damaged disc. If symptoms similar to what the patient were feeling occur, it can be confirmed that the disc examined is likely the root cause of pain.
What are the treatment options for a Bulging Disc?
The first step in treating a bulging disc is typically the administration of medication to the patient to help with pain and inflammation. If medication is not enough to alleviate the entirety of symptoms, a nerve block may be used to provide longer periods of relief. In cases where injections and medication do not provide full relief, surgical removal of the disc may be performed.