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Bulging Disc – Symptoms, Causes, Surgery, Treatment

Written by Dr.Mary

What exactly is a Bulging disc?

Discs in the back perform as pillows sandwiched amid the vertebrae of the spine. They are made up of a touch outer cover of cartilage which surrounds a substance in the middle which is softer. It helps to consider them as minute doughnuts with jelly in the middle which are also precisely the correct size in order to fit in the middle of the vertebrae.

A disc that is bulging is a problem related to the spine, usually the lower back, which occurs when the disc bulges thru a gap in the spine. This bulging disc happens when the disc shifts out of the customary radius occurring most often because of age.

A bulging disc should not be confused with a disc which is herniated which normally results when there is a crack or flaw in the tough outer coat of the cartilage which lets some of the softer material inside protrudes from the disc. They are also often referred to as slipped discs or ruptured discs.

Bulging discs tend to be most common, while herniated discs are most likely to create pain. But there are many individuals who have bulging discs as well as herniated discs which cause no pain unless they rub or come in contact with a nerve.

Bulging Disc Symptoms

Bulging discs can create pain as well as disability in several areas of the body, and depends on the location of the affected disc or discs. A person might never realize that they have a bulging disc as long as the bulging area does not press on surrounding tissues. When this bulge intrudes on any nerves of the spinal column, this is normally when symptoms start. In the lower back, it can cause the pain to travel to the buttocks, legs, hips as well as feet. In the upper back, this pain can radiate from the neck down the arm and to the fingers.

About 90% of bulging discs develop in the lower back or lumbar region of the spine. If the bulging disc impinges on the sciatic nerve in the lower back, it leads to a back disorder/problem called sciatica. But, if the bulging disc is located in the neck area, it is known as a cervical bulging disc.

Cervical Bulging disc Symptoms

  • Pain in neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers
  • Tingling in neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers
  • Numbness in neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers
  • Weakness in the neck, shoulder arms, hands and fingers

Thoracic Bulging disc Symptoms

  • Less common in this area
  • Pain in upper back
  • Pain can radiate to the stomach or chest
  • Leads patient and doctor to believe that problems are with the heart, lungs, or gastrointestinal area.

Lumbar Bulging disc Symptoms

  • Region located from waist to the hips
  • Common symptom is lower back pain
  • Pain can be dull, sharp or burning
  • Radiates to the buttocks, legs and feet
  • Weakness, numbness and tingling in the legs
  • Causes muscle spasms
  • Pain worsens with sneezing, coughing or bending over

Bulging Disc Causes

There are numerous things which cause bulging discs and they include:

  • Age
  • Degenerative diseases
  • Strain on back
  • Height

Some of the possible causes are actually in control of the individual, while others are not easy to prevent. Basically taking good care of the body as well as keeping an eye on spinal health can decrease the risk of developing a bulging disc.

If a bulging disc does happen, an individual should be seen to talk about treatment options, as spinal conditions like this can become difficult if ignored.

The major risk factor for bulging disc is age. With age, the body loses elasticity and the membrane that covers the soft inside of the disc can become weak, allowing the disc to bulge out.

Degenerative diseases are other leading causes of bulging disc. Thru out a person’s life, a lot of stress is put on the spine and if a degenerative disease develops, as is common with elderly individuals, this puts the discs in jeopardy of bulging or even becoming herniated.

Strain on the back also leads to bulging discs. Several common causes include jobs which are stressful and involve a lot of stooping and bending, any career consisting of heavy lifting as well as jobs where individuals are on their feet for long periods of time. In all these cases, bulging discs can become a severe problem especially when individuals continue to work thru the pain, as the strain increases the bulge or leads to other disc to start bulging as well.


Height also seems to be a risk factor, with individuals who are taller being more susceptible to bulging disc and weight can cause issues, as weight puts more strain on the spine. But there are exercises which can help core strength as well as spinal elasticity do seem to help with bulging disc prevention, as does consuming a healthy diet rich in minerals as well as vitamins, as this can stop or slow down the start of a degenerative disease.

Bulging Disc Treatment

CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as well as x-rays can endorse the existence of bulging disc. The treatment of bulging disc can be of 2 types:

Conservation treatment

Depending on seriousness and severity of the pain treatment is decided. There are some problems which do need immediate medical attention while others do require plenty of rest with a supplement of anti-inflammatory, analgesic pain killers such as cortisones. There are some cases, where the protrusion of disc is too much in the spinal canal then surgery is needed. Treatment goal is to make the individual comfortable as fast as possible, getting the patient back to a normal state in a carefully designed rehabitation program in order to reduce any more tear and wear of the disc.


Rest is the most important role in treatment. In the majority of cases, a complete, good rest is what the body is longing for. It is necessary to reduce the pressure and stress off the spine. Often a placement of pillow under knees can help. But even with rest being so important, you should not get stuck with complete bed rest and should return to normal activities steadily. It is advised to combined rest with a small amount of exercises which are recommended and this combination can do wonders.

Physical Therapy

In a majority of cases, physical therapy in a rehabitation program helps. Work with a certified physical therapist can help in reduction of pain and inflammation, improving as well as rebuilding strength and this will help to return to normal activities with greater ease. A good, well rounded physical therapy has the goal of controlling symptoms, practicing mobility as well as safe exercises. For those individuals suffering from back pain, gradual physical exercise is believed to be the best way to combat the pain.

Epidural Steroid Injection

These are used as pain killers. They are of help to control inflammation.

Bulging Disc Surgery

The majority of people will have back pain sometime during life. And about 90% of these individuals will get better without any treatment or with conservative therapy for 4 to 6 weeks. Only 5% remain disabled for longer than 3 months.

In the majority of situations, surgery should not be considered unless conservative therapy has failed and even then it is still not indicated for bulging discs.

Bulging disc surgery is very scary to consider, because there is so much conflicting information available. But there are some situations where surgery is recommended but most of the time, this is not the case.

In fact, majority of research points to the success rate of bulging disc surgery being very low, and seldom delivers lasting relief (in most cases, the pain comes back within 5 years).

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