What Is a Bulging Disc?
A bulging disc refers to a common spine injury that frequently affects the intervertebral disc (Mathur, Jain, Sharma, Rawall, & Bhagwan Sharma, 2020). This condition develops when the outer shell of the disc weakens, causing the disc to bulge or flatten to one side of the spinal canal. This condition can occur in the lower back (lumbar spine), upper and mid-back (thoracic spine), and neck (cervical spine) region. Anyone of any age can suffer from a bulged disc, although the elderly have a higher risk of developing one. When the disc nucleus protrudes from the annulus, the disc bulges in a considerable amount, resulting in a herniated disc.
The spine comprises a series of interlocking vertebrae that supports and allows the spine to flex and move. The spinal discs serve as shock absorbers, protecting the spinal tissue and bone from injury. These discs have a hard outer shell and a liquid filled inner nucleus. These discs can occasionally move out of their usual place, resulting in outward enlargement and fluid leaking throughout the disc’s weakest spot. In many situations, the disc expands and fills the gaps between the vertebrae. This process can occur over a long period of time. The symptoms will get worse while left untreated.
What Are The Common Signs And Symptoms Of Bulging Disc?
A patient may have little to no pain until the bulging disc reaches the stage of herniation. The signs and symptoms of a bulging disc vary depending on the degree and location of the problem. Symptoms might emerge quickly or slowly, depending on the severity. Bulging discs frequently cause pressure points on surrounding nerves, resulting in a range of symptoms. Depending on the degree of the bulging disc, symptoms may range from slight tingling and numbness to moderate or severe pain. Some obvious symptoms of the bulging disc may include (Kim et al., 2021):
- Severe back pain that worsens with movement
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness and numbness in the leg and feet
- Reduced motility in the leg and knee
- Tingling in the hand, arm, and neck
- Loss of bladder and bowel function
- Difficult walking or standing
- Paralysis due to spinal cord injury
A herniated disc produces similar kinds of symptoms in the upper portion of the spine. Instead of affecting the legs, it might produce numbness and paralysis throughout the upper body. To prevent a potentially life-threatening condition, these symptoms require immediate medical help.
What Are The Common Causes Of Bulging Disc?
Normal aging and disc degeneration, combined with other risk factors, refer to the most prevalent causes of a bulging disc. A bulging disc can develop from a pre-existing weakness in the annulus and a rapid increase in pressure through the disc. Vehicle accidents, a bad posture that puts stress on the spinal disc, twisting of the disc from repeated labor, repetitive sports injuries, and improper heavy lifting techniques can induce the development of a bulging disc. Physically demanding occupations, such as those that require lifting heavy things often, may further raise the chance of a bulging disk. According to research, bulging discs in the lumbar spine affect 1 to 3 percent of Americans. In the USA, this condition occurs around 5 to 20 cases per 1000 individuals (Amin, Andrade, & Neuman, 2017).
How Do Spinal Specialists Diagnose Bulging Disc?
Initial diagnosis of a bulging disc comprises a complete medical examination of the patient that includes brief pain pattern and documentation of the spinal deformity of patients. Spinal specialists also perform various neurological tests to confirm muscle strength and sensation. Physicians may further confirm by the following tests (Haro, 2014):
- Imaging test: This includes X-ray, Computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
How Do Spinal Specialists Treat Bulging Disc?
The primary treatment for individuals with a bulging disc mostly involves pain control and stabilization to prevent additional damage. Neurosurgeons may perform surgery depending upon the presence of a fracture and its stability. The severity and location of a bulging disk will determine the treatment options. These include (Schoenfeld & Weiner, 2011):
- Medications: This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, pain relievers, and steroid injections to manage pain.
- Physical therapy: This procedure helps to strengthen the muscles around the disk and improve mobility. This includes electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) stretching exercises, soft tissue massage, etc.
- Exercise: Gentle physical activities like swimming, yoga, or walking helps to increase the condition of the patient. The spinal specialist suggests avoiding lifting overweight.
After non-operative therapy, around 70% to 85% of the patient’s symptoms disappear. If a patient’s discomfort persists, neurosurgeons recommend surgery to alleviate the pressure. Endoscopic spine surgery may be an option for pain relief. For any kind of question, contact us.
Amin, R. M., Andrade, N. S., & Neuman, B. J. (2017). Lumbar Disc Herniation. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 10(4), 507–516. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-017-9441-4
Haro, H. (2014). Translational research of herniated discs: Current status of diagnosis and treatment. Journal of Orthopaedic Science, 19(4), 515–520. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00776-014-0571-x
Kim, C. H., Choi, Y., Chung, C. K., Kim, K. J., Shin, D. A., Park, Y. K., … Cho, Y. (2021). Nonsurgical treatment outcomes for surgical candidates with lumbar disc herniation: a comprehensive cohort study. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-83471-y
Mathur, M., Jain, N., Sharma, S., Rawall, S., & Bhagwan Sharma, S. (2020). Lumbar Disc Herniation: A review article. IP International Journal of Orthopaedic Rheumatology, 6(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.18231/j.ijor.2020.001
Schoenfeld, A. J., & Weiner, B. K. (2011). Treatment of lumbar disc herniation: Evidence-based practice. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 53(4), 209–214. https://doi.org/10.2147/ijgm.s12270