The term “bulging disc” strikes fear in the hardiest of back pain sufferers. The sound of it is enough to make you want to carefully lie down and not move. Since bulging disc symptoms are nerve related and often result in sharp pain, a patient can get the idea that the condition is far more serious than it is.
But the reality is that most adults of all ages have or will suffer one or more disc injuries during their lifetime. Some only experience mild discomfort and many times a disc heals without the patient ever knowing it had bulged or slipped. Others suffer severe, debilitating pain that results in long term pain and invasive treatment.
Slipped disc is common terminology that can be confusing because it actually does not describe the condition.The term, slipped, is most often used to describe the condition in the lower back.
Most are somewhere in between those two extremes. And most do not ever require surgery or other treatment other than home self-therapy by the patient.
So, what exactly is a disc? What are the symptoms that you’ll experience with a bulging disc? First a spinal disc is the gel filled pad that sits between each vertebrae.
This provides the cushion to allow the extensive movement of the spine without the vertebrae rubbing bone on bone.
A bulging disc is one of these pads that has weakened and protruded to some degree from the spine. The disc has in some way become damaged and is now pushing against the spaces in the back of the spine. The level of pain caused is relative to the location and the nerves surrounding the individual disc.
How Does A Bulging Disc Occur?
This explanation is basic and applies to the most common form of, and reasons for a bulging disc. In the simplest terms, this condition occurs when a disc is damaged by the two most common factors: injury and age. The first one is controllable. The second one is not.
Neither should make you quake with fear.
A disc can be injured by an accident of some kind causing significant compression or impact on the spine. The disc is weakened and while not generally immediate, the effect of the injury is the disc wall gradually becoming weakened. This results in the disc protruding or “bulging” outside the vertebrae.
Another factor in a slipped disc is simply age. This does not mean that when we hit a certain age range, all our spinal discs start to ooze out. It means that simple wear and tear over a long period of time will result in a range of outcomes based on numerous factors.
Those outcomes can be anything from discomfort to more severe symptoms involving nerves, or progressive disc deterioration.
Most often, with some typical exercise and other self care, the effect remains mild.
Risk Of Disc Problems For Overweight People
Obesity is a serious consideration in back health. It is one of the most common contributing factors to bulging discs. The excess weight of an obese person puts serious and continuous strain on the spine. Consequently obesity can either be the sole cause or a contributor.
Obesity also makes the recovery process much more difficult, take longer and sometimes can make it impossible. Losing weight will pay big dividends in overall back health aside from spine ailments.
These factors in what causes this condition should not strike fear in you. They are simply to make you aware of what can cause a spinal disc to protrude causing the symptoms so often associated with them.
Importance of knowing the difference between a bulging disc and herniated disc
The confusion comes from a wide misuse of terminology. Consequently, there is widespread confusion as to the meaning. A herniated disc is not the same as a bulging disc, though one generally follows the other. Not determining which condition is the source of your discomfort can affect the results of attempts at pain relief.
A disc protrudes or bulges, then may herniate. This means the disc has progressed from simply bulging to actually tearing, letting the inner gel out into the spinal space.
A herniated disc in your back or neck will produce the same symptoms as a bulging disc, but if left untreated may result in further damage to the spinal vertebrae themselves as they “close in” on each other. This means they are getting closer to rubbing together possibly causing much more severe spine damage.
A herniated disc is considerably more likely to result in surgery than a simple bulging disc in your back or neck.
What are the results of bulging disc symptoms on my ability to function normally?
Having an absolute answer to this would make a doctor very wealthy. At this point, the only thing any physician can do is give you a wide range of “possibilities” as to the results of a bulging disc. Consequently, often both the diagnosis and treatment options are vague and “iffy”.
But here are some statistical realities about the results of having a bulging disc.
- Most people suffer one or more of them in their lives
- Most people are not disabled by them
- Discomfort can be anywhere from mild discomfort to severe pain
- The degree of nerve pain generally determines the degree of effect on function.
- Most people who have a bulging disc resolve them by simple home treatment and therapy – even those with severe pain.
- Most people resolve the condition and any debilitating nerve pain within a few days to a week.
- While dealing with a bulging disc, there is effective, natural pain relief available.
This does not cover the three other stages of more serious issues with disc injury, just the most common.
It is also worth noting here that lower back facet joint pain is often mistaken for bulging disc symptoms. This Spine Alert article on relief for facet joints will explain their function and reasons for pain.
Symptoms In Your Neck Indicating A Cervical Bulging Disc:
An injured disc in your neck may cause any of these: stiffness, soreness, sharp pain, pain in your shoulders and upper arms, and possibly numbness in your arms. Below is an email letter from Beth in Oregon. Understandably, she asked that I not show her last name.
Often, bulging discs are associated with pain in the mid to lower back only. Here we see that they can be responsible for considerable cervical or neck pain radiating down through the shoulders and arms. All said, there are broadly tested, proven systems of dealing with pain from an injured neck disc.
The digital, downloadable versions of these systems is often the best value, providing extensive pain relief for a very low cost.
Symptoms in the lower back indicating a lumbar bulging disc, would be pain directly in that region along with the legs and hips. If the injury progresses to a herniation of some severity, it can affect your ability to stand or walk. It can also have an affect on bowel and urinary function.
If numbness, joint weakness, or bowel or urinary incontinence occur, you should see a physician immediately. This will generally mean the injury has progressed to a more serious condition requiring medical treatment.
For options concerning what may be the best treatment for you, check out the Spine Alert article links to the left.
A summary and encouragement about a bulging disc injury and the resulting symptoms.
The symptoms are common across all age ranges and in men and women. They are, like many other conditions, to be dealt with but should not be feared.
You should check with your doctor if you are in any severe pain. However, keep in mind what the condition normally is. It is normally uncomfortable, sometimes painful, but not permanent or debilitating.
Statistically, the most common treatment prescribed for a bulging disc is rest, some home therapy, and some mild pain relief medicine.