Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar Disc Herniations/Bulging Discs

What is a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc is a general term for what occurs when the tough exterior of a damaged spinal disc extends out of its normal location between two vertebrae, resulting in irritation and pain from the surrounding nerves.

A bulging disc may also be referred to as a slipped disc, ruptured disc, or herniated disc. There are slight differences between these conditions, however. It takes an expert to determine what is relevant, what type of treatment is appropriate, and what is just a normal variant seen on an MRI.

What Causes a Bulging Disc?

Bulging discs occur when a disc starts to break down, usually due to aging and life-long wear and tear.

Other factors can include:

  • Poor posture and sedentary lifestyle
  • Trauma, including falls and motor vehicle accidents
  • Obesity

What Are the Symptoms of a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc causes different symptoms depending on where it occurs and how much impingement it incurs. Some of the most common symptoms include:
  • Dull ache or pain in the neck or back, especially when standing or walking.
  • Pain, numbness, or weakness that radiates into the buttocks and legs.
  • Pain, numbness, or weakness that radiates into the shoulders and arms.
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence (in extreme cases when those nerves are affected).

Symptoms caused by a bulging disc tend to become worse with physical activity and resolve, at least in part, with rest. When bulging discs occur in the lower (lumbar) spine, painful symptoms may be relieved by bending slightly forward at the waist, which can relieve the pressure caused by spurs.

Bulging discs can cause symptoms similar to other conditions, including bone infections, bone spurs, tumors, and fractures. Having an in-depth physical exam is critical to ensuring you get the proper treatment for your condition. Digital imaging tests like X-rays or CT scans can show bone spurs and are typically ordered when more general symptoms are present to confirm the diagnosis.

What Causes a Bulging Disc?

Your particular history, overall condition, and the severity and duration of your symptoms will all be evaluated to come up with a unique treatment strategy for you. This can include a tailored plan with recommendations for:
  • Over-the-counter or prescription painkillers.
  • Muscle relaxants if the disc compression is causing muscle spasms.
  • Cortisone injections to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Hot or cold therapy to reduce swelling and increase circulation for better healing.
  • Stretching exercises to improve flexibility and reduce pressure.
  • Physical therapy for guided exercises and other approaches to minimize pain.

If conservative management fails or the disc herniation is significant, surgery is indicated.

Surgery usually involves the removal of the portion of the disc that’s bulging, but in some cases, the entire disc must be removed.

Dr. Jenkins has extensive expertise in all types of minimally invasive treatments and surgical approaches to perform the right type of operation for you and manage you closely throughout all phases of your condition and recovery.