Bulging disc and herniated disc are commonly used terms for intervertebral disc problems. People also use terms like slipped and ruptured, but a disc does not actually slip, and ruptured just refers to a disc that has herniated. This can understandably cause some confusion when you just want to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. For simplicity, we will stick with bulging and herniated for the rest of this post.
What are intervertebral discs, and what do they do?
In between each of your vertebrae, except the atlas and axis (C1 and C2), are flexible, gel-like pads. They are called intervertebral discs. They act as shock absorbers for your spine. These cushions absorb and disperse impact energy and provide spinal flexibility for bending and turning. Each disc is made of a tough cartilage surrounding a softer inner core called the nucleus pulposus.
Being an integral part of your spine, this puts them right next door to the bundle of nerves serving your spine and other areas. This is important to note because a bulging or protruded disc can press on these nerves and cause pain. Those nerves serve other parts of your body. That means you may feel pain in other areas, not just in your back.
Bulging disc vs herniated disc
A bulging disc is simply that: a disc that is bulging outside of its normal parameters between vertebrae. Wear and tear or damage from misuse can cause the disc to be pushed out farther than it should be. Age is also a very common factor as discs become compressed over time. A disc does not always bulge out evenly all the way around. It can often only be ¼ to ½ of the disc that is affected.
Herniated discs, on the other hand, happen when cracks form in the tougher outer layer of cartilage. That allows the softer core to protrude. Over time, an untreated bulging disc can develop into a herniated disc. They can also occur from trauma such as a car accident. Herniated discs are commonly called ruptured discs or slipped discs. As stated before, a disc cannot slip. A disc is attached to the top and bottom of the vertebrae. What can slip are the vertebrae themselves. The term slipped disc would be more accurately called a slipped vertebrae or a subluxation.
Causes and symptoms of bulging discs
As you age, your discs may lose fluid, and small cracks or lesions may form in the outer walls. Your disc may bulge, irritate nerves, and cause a lot of discomfort and pain. In severe cases, disc damage makes it difficult to walk, stand, sit, or lift. It may cause pain when sneezing, coughing, urinating, or defecating.
Damage can occur from excess stress on the disc. Here are some causes:
- poor posture WATCH THIS VIDEO: TO Fix Poor Posture
- being overweight
- spinal injury
- careers such as over-the-road truck driving
- repeated strain on the spine
- disc degeneration WATCH 3D VIDEO: Of Disc Degenerating over time.
Disc degeneration is also sometimes referred to as disc desiccation or dehydration of the intervertebral disc, which commonly happens with age. However, because the disc is now thinner, this may lead to irritation of spinal nerves (ie: sciatica, tingling in the legs, numbness in the toes and arms, arm pain) and contribute to endometriosis, menstrual cramps, infections (kidney, vaginal, bladder), urinary retention, miscarriage, sterility, prostate problems, impotence, cystitis, and constipation. It’s not uncommon for an individual with a chronic back problem to also suffer from one or more of the above issues.
Research has revealed that spinal discs are involved in many lower back pain cases, especially when the pain or numbness radiates from your low back down into the hips, legs, and feet. Some symptoms that can be caused by both bulging and herniated discs but are more common with herniated are:
- back OR leg pain (WATCH THIS VIDEO: Cox technique for sciatica leg pain)
- loss of range of motion
- Neck and arm pain (Watch This 3D Video: Disc herniation with arm pain and tingling)
Diagnosis of bulging disc or herniated disc
A thorough examination is a good start to determine the condition of your spine. To confirm a bulging or herniated disc, you will need to have an MRI. While an imaging test may confirm this, one other thing to keep in mind is that a bulging or herniated disc may not be the cause of your back pain. In many instances, people with confirmed bulging or herniated discs report that they do not feel any discomfort or pain.
Treatment and Care
If you have already been diagnosed with a bulging disc, then the goal of treatment is to prevent it from herniating. The end goal for any treatment should be to restore normal function. Conservative treatment options usually include:
- chiropractic treatment Watch Video Of Cox Flexion Distraction Technique
- physical therapy
- Cold Laser Therapy– Learn More
- Spinal Decompression Watch Video of Decompression
- Medication and injections when all else fails
Surgery is rarely needed. It may be in severe cases, but not without exhausting all conservative treatments first. We see many failed cases in our office, and there are times spinal surgery does not work and must be repeated. Synergy Wellness Chiropractic & Physical Therapy uses the gold standard (Spinal Decompression, Cold Laser Therapy, and Cox Flexion Distraction Technic) when treating disc herniations and bulges. Our disc treatment protocols are incredibly effective.
Back surgery for herniation should only be attempted as a last resort. Back surgery is a dangerous, high-risk surgical procedure with a failure rate higher than most. Many people with disc degeneration live productive lives with no symptoms. Include chiropractic care in your lifestyle. You’ll get more miles out of your spine with a higher quality of life, without surgery or drugs. Chiropractors are leading the way in spinal care using cutting-edge technologies and techniques.
Chiropractic has blessed many sufferers of spine and disc problems. This type of care is not, however, a “treatment” for conditions. It is caring for your entire body. Many times the holistic or whole-body effect of chiropractic care surprises patients.
Why wait until a disc turns “hot” before exploring chiropractic care? Chiropractic care may help prevent your spine from deterioration and herniation. Chiropractors have even helped people relieve the pain and frustration of failed back surgery (yes, you can receive chiropractic care if you’ve had spinal surgery) and also prevent future operations.
If you suspect or have been told that you have a bulging or herniated disc, contact Dr. Dave to find out what chiropractic care can do to help you heal.