A bulging disc is a condition that affects the spine. The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae and in between these bones, there are soft cushions called discs. These discs help keep the bones from rubbing against each other and also allow the spine to be flexible and strong by acting as shock absorbers for the twisting and turning that the spine does every day.
These discs can become harder and less flexible as we age, making the spine more prone to injury. When too much pressure is put on a disc, the outer layer of the disc can bulge out. This is called a bulging disc. A bulging disc alone is not always a severe problem, but it can be painful. If the bulging disc continues, it can progress to a herniation, which then could become a more severe condition, where the inner gel-like material of the disc pushes out and can irritate or compress surrounding nerves.
It’s important to get it checked out by a doctor, especially if it’s causing pain or pressing on nerves. Medical imaging, such as a CT or MRI can help identify bulging discs. Your physician should review the symptoms and determine if medical imaging is necessary to determine if there is a bulging disc or other back problem.
Bulging discs can often go unnoticed as they may not cause pain or discomfort. It can however be distressing to hear that you have had an MRI of your spine that showed a bulging disc or discs. When individuals do experience symptoms associated with a bulging disc, the symptoms can vary depending on the location of the bulging disc in the spine.
Symptoms from a bulging disc may include:
- Back or neck pain
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, and neck.
- Weakness or pain in the toes, feet, legs, and buttocks
- Gastrointestinal problems (incontinence)
- Chest pain
Some bulging disc conditions eventually heal without treatment and others may respond to conservative methods including behavioral, occupational, chiropractic, or physical therapy. In other cases, the condition may be more complex and warrant different treatment methods to manage symptoms and relieve the pressure from the disc. Treatments can include the following:
- Medicines such as anti-inflammatories and painkillers
- Ice and heat therapy
- Spinal injections
- Mild exercises
It’s important to pay attention to the symptoms of a bulging disc and not ignore them. Seeing a doctor early on can help relieve pain and get you on the road to recovery. If you suspect you have a bulging disc and are experiencing symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor to develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.