Disc pain – bulging
What is a bulging disc?
Bulging discs are under severe pressure. If you imagine a disc as a jelly donut, a bulging disc has jelly being pushed out on either side. That “jelly” is actually a soft, gelatinous inner layer called nucleus pulposus. When the disc is compressed, nearby nerve pain may be caused. Most bulging discs occur in the lower back, but they can also be seen in the neck and upper back, too.
What causes a bulging disc?
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- General “wear and tear”
- Injury or trauma
- Bad posture
- Occupational hazards
- Family history of disc disease
- Wearing shoes with no orthopedic support while running
- Sitting, standing or sleeping improperly can strain the neck and back, leading to a bulging disc
A physician can determine which disc or discs are bulging with an MRI or CT scan. Diagnostic imaging is suggested for those who have had 4-6 weeks of severe pain and haven’t had results with conservative therapies.
- Pain or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands or fingers.
- Pain in the upper back that radiates to the chest or stomach can signal a thoracic (mid-spine) bulging disc.
- Muscle spasms and lower back pain may be evidence of a bulging disc in the lumbar (lower back) region.
- Discomfort in the buttocks, thighs and feet. When a bulging disc pressures the sciatic nerve, sciatica can result. This condition usually manifests as pain that emanates down one leg, but not the other.
- Trouble walking, feel heavy in the legs or lose motor skills; if you’re experiencing these symptoms, seek emergency assistance as this may be evidence of life-threatening damage to the spinal cord.
- If you experience a loss of bladder control, call medical authorities immediately, as this may mean a bulging disc is compressing the cauda equina nerve bundle.
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory/pain relief medications
- Short-term prescription pain relief from opiate medications
- Steroid injections for inflammation
- Physical therapy to help strengthen and improve stability
- Chiropractic traction
Surgical treatment is generally not necessary. Once a physician can identify the underlying cause for the bulging disc, it can be treated with an open discectomy if conservative care fails.
Most bulging discs will not require treatment, but for those that do, there are many options. Physicians will likely start with conservative care, as most bulging discs heal with these treatment options within a month.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory/pain relief medications can be used for the treatment of Disc pain - bulging.