A Bulging disc is a degenerative spine condition that develops naturally over time due to wear and tear of the spine. Chronic pain is possible with bulging disc due to pressure on the spine from weight gain or repetitive motion. The vertebrae (spinal bones) will mash or squeeze the disc in between them. As it squeezes, the disc will expand and flatten, causing the “bulge” into the spinal canal. When this happens, it can aggravate nerves which may cause pain.
How common is a bulging disc?
In a review of the literature regarding 3,110 asymptomatic individuals with back pain, researchers found that the prevalence rate of disc degeneration increased from 37% in 20-year old people to 96% of 80-year old individuals. Of those with degenerative disc disease, the rate of disc protrusion was 29% for 20-year old persons and 43% for those 80 years or older.
What causes a bulging disc?
There are many reasons why bulging discs occur besides degenerative changes as we age. Causes are:
- Family history
- Car accident or any severe trauma
- Improper lifting
- Occupation requiring bending, standing, lifting, or driving repetitively
- Contact sports participation
- Smoking and/or consuming alcohol excessively
- Lack of exercise
What are the symptoms of a bulging disc?
Bulging disc symptoms will vary according to the location of the actual bulge. Also, symptoms depend on the area of the spine that is affected. Many people who experience discomfort with a bulging disc notice that it’s in areas of the body which are unusual or not related to their spinal condition. Here a are a few locations of bulging disc and the associated symptoms:
- Thoracic spine – A compressed nerve in the thoracic (middle) spine may lead to pain and/or discomfort in the arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back.
- Lumbar spine – Nerves compressed in the lumbar spine or “lower” spine can cause patients to experience symptoms in the hips, lower back, legs, and buttocks.
- Cervical spine – The nerves being compressed in this area can lead to discomfort in the neck, upper back, arms, and shoulders.
How is a bulging disc diagnosed?
If you are experiencing pain in the back or neck that last for several days or more, and pain that is causing you extreme discomfort, it’s time to see your doctor. The doctor will do standard tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. The diagnostic process involves a few steps:
- Medical history review. The doctor will ask about your family history. Genetics may play a role in your pain and discomfort. Many degenerative spine conditions are believed to be caused by our genetic make-up.
- A series of questions about your symptoms. Your doctor will want to know about the specifics of your symptoms, like the origins and location of the pain.
- Physical examination. During the examination, the doctor will try to find and pinpoint the source of the discomfort you’re feeling. He or she will want to test your range of motion. This gives the doctor an idea about your condition.
- Diagnostic testing. In many cases, the doctor may order tests, such as x-rays, CT scans, or MRI, which is done to better confirm the diagnosis and also to rule out any other problem.
What are my treatment options?
There are a few treatment options for a bulging disc. The treatment can range from a more conservative type of therapy, such as over the counter pain relievers, physical therapy, and hot/cold compressions.
Interventional treatment options consist of intradiscal injections, epidural steroid injections, radiofrequency ablation and stem cell therapy.
Surgery is an option if conservative measures do not help. This is typically an elective quality of life procedure, and may consist of a spinal fusion or artificial disc replacement.
Colorado Clinic offers the best nonoperative back pain relief possible for pain emanating from a bulging disc, spinal arthritis, spondylolisthesis and other conditions. Most insurance is accepted, call today!
Brinjikii W, Leutmer PH, Comstock B (2014). Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration. American Journal of Neuroradiology. 10.3174/ajnr.A4173