Bulging disc overview
Bulging intervertebral discs are a very common occurrence. They usually remain asymptomatic; however, they may cause discomfort and disability in various parts of the body if the disc compresses an adjacent nerve root. With aging, the outer fibrous portion of intervertebral discs is weakened. Pressure from the central core of the disc may then stretch to the outer rim causing the disc to bulge. Many people have bulging discs without realizing it. As long as the bulging area does not press upon surrounding neural tissues no symptoms occur. When the bulging disc impinges on the nerves of the spine, however, symptoms begin. In the lower back, the damaged disc may cause pain to travel to the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet. In the cervical spine, pain may radiate from the neck down the arm and to the fingers.
Approximately 90 percent of bulging discs occur in the lower back, or lumbar area, of the spine. The most common lumbar bulging disc is seen between lumbar vertebra L4 and L5, and between vertebra L5 and S1, causing pain in the L5 nerve or S1 spinal nerve, respectively. The sciatic nerve receives neurons from spinal nerves L3 through S3. If the bulging disc impinges upon one or more of these six spinal nerves, pain, known as sciatic, may result. Sciatic pain originates in the low back, radiates through the buttocks, down the back to the leg and may extend all the way to the foot.
If you are concerned that you’re starting to show signs of a bulging disc, you should take the time to visit our bulging disc symptoms page and also see your doctor to confirm your suspicions.
The discs between cervical vertebrae may also bulge. If nerve root compression occurs, symptoms are experienced in the neck with radiation to the scapular area, shoulder, arm, forearm and hand.
Bulging disc causes & treatments
Understanding the causes of bulging discs can help avoid painful symptoms arising from them. Bulging discs occur with weakening of the outer fibrous containment ring of the disc. This weakening is often age related and thus unavoidable. However, some activities speed up the development of disc bulges and are to be avoided. Protect your back when lifting, use good posture, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise regularly to strengthen core muscles supporting body weight.
Following diagnosis of a symptomatic bulging disc, your physician will recommend treatments designed to relieve symptoms such as rest, warm compresses, exercises, and medication. Most of the time, symptoms arising from a bulging disc will abate with this conservative treatment. If conservative treatment fails, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Spinal surgery in the past has been a daunting event, meaning expensive hospitalization, significant surgical and anesthesia risk, and an extended uncomfortable convalescent period. The advent of microelectronics has made minimally invasive spinal surgery possible. Minimally invasive spinal surgery as performed by Laser Spine Institute mitigates most of the negative features of traditional open spinal surgery. If you have been diagnosed with a bulging disc and conservative management has failed, we suggest that you view our page dedicated to bulging disc treatment. You may be able to more efficiently reclaim a productive lifestyle with a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed at Laser Spine Institute.