Spinal discs act as cushions, sitting between each of our vertebrae. These discs have a soft, jellylike material in the center and a tough layer of cartilage on the outside.
When healthy, spinal discs allow our backs and necks to bend, twist, and stretch without pain. However, spinal discs can develop weak spots that extend beyond their normal positions, sometimes pushing into the spinal canal. This is called a bulging disc. There are several factors that can cause a bulging disc, including the natural aging process.
How Age Affects Intervertebral Discs
The cartilage surrounding spinal discs becomes more fragile and less elastic as we age. Once the tough, outer portion of a disc weakens, the soft material on the inside has the opportunity to shift out of place, causing a bulging disc. As we age, and as cartilage weakens, the risk for developing a bulging disc increases.
Symptoms and Locations
A bulging disc can cause pain, numbness and tingling when it applies pressure to the nerves of the spine. Where a patient experiences these symptoms will depend on the location of the bulging disc:
- A cervical bulging disc occurs in the neck. This can cause symptoms from the shoulders all the way to the fingers.
- Thoracic bulging discs are located in the middle of the back and cause patients to experience symptoms anywhere in the torso, including the ribs.
- A lumbar bulging disc occurs in the lower back. Symptoms are often felt in the feet, legs, buttocks and lower back. This condition can also lead to the development of sciatica.
What to Do Next
Talk to your doctor if you you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. Though bulging discs are sometimes a result of the natural aging process, there are still many treatment options available. Popular conservative treatments include rest, physical therapy, and pain medication. In most cases, pain from a bulging disc will lessen in a few weeks, but if your symptoms do not subside, contact Laser Spine Institute for a free MRI or CT scan review. Our safe, effective outpatient procedures can help you rediscover your life without back or neck pain.