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What is a Bulging Disc?


Bulging discs are quite common, especially as people age. While a bulging disc doesn’t always cause symptoms, the symptoms can be painful when they do occur.

Our vertebrae are separated by discs that have a tough outer shell and a soft, almost gel-like center. Strain on our discs from poor posture and everyday wear and tear can cause the outer portion of the discs to weaken and lose their shape. This, in turn, can cause the disc to bulge into the spinal canal. Bulging disc symptoms are the result of the disc pressing on nerves and can include pain, tingling and weakness that extend to the areas connected to those nerves, like the arms and legs. Minimally invasive bulging disc treatment options can provide relief for those who fail to get relief from conservative treatments.

If you’ve been living with back pain even after trying various treatments, Back Pain Centers of America can help. Call us today at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to learn more about the back pain treatments that have helped more than 30,000 patients find recovery from chronic pain. Our board-certified spine specialists are ready to help you get the treatment you need.

Suffering from bulging disc

Bulging Disc Causes and Risk Factors

A bulging disc is caused by the weakening of the outer portion of the disc. While aging and everyday wear and tear on our spines are the most common causes of bulging discs, there are things that can cause the degeneration of our discs to happen more quickly, such as:

  • Poor posture – Poor posture puts extra stress on our spine and can cause our discs to wear faster. This can be poor posture when lifting heavy items or sitting at a computer for extended periods. Learning and practicing proper posture is an important part of bulging disc prevention.
  • Certain jobs and activities – Some occupations and activities involve repetitive lifting, bending and twisting that can wear down our spinal discs prematurely.
  • Injury – A spinal injury that results from an accident or sport can cause a bulging disc or worse.
  • Being overweight – Extra body weight adds extra stress on the spine and the muscles that support it.
  • Smoking – Smoking has been found to speed up the degenerative process, which can increase the risk of a bulging disc and other spinal problems.
  • Inactivity – A 2015 study linked inactivity to narrower intervertebral discs.

Bulging Disc Symptoms

The symptoms of bulging disc vary depending on the severity and the location. You can have a bulging disc along any part of the spine. A bulging disc in the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine can affect different parts of the body that the affected nerve connects to.

The following are symptoms of bulging disc in the cervical spine (neck):

  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms, hands, or fingers

The following are symptoms of bulging disc in the thoracic spine (upper back):

  • Upper back pain
  • Pain that radiates to the chest that can mimic heart or lung problems
  • Radiating pain to the stomach that can mimic gastrointestinal issues

The following are symptoms of bulging disc in the lumbar spine (lower back):

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain that radiates to the hips, buttocks, or down the leg
  • Tingling, numbness, and weakness in the leg
  • Muscle spasms

bulging disc back pain

Bulging Disc Treatment Options

Bulging disc treatment begins with conservative therapy. In many cases, a combination of the following can provide relief (check with your doctor to find out what is right for you):

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and analgesics can relieve mild to moderate pain and inflammation. There are also creams and ointments containing these medications that can be applied topically to relieve muscle pain and stiffness.
  • Prescription pain medication – If OTC medication doesn’t relieve your pain, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medication for temporary use. Note that Back Pain Centers of America is not involved in the prescribing of narcotics for pain.
  • Muscle relaxants – Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant medication if you’re experiencing muscle spasms with your bulging disc.
  • Heat and cold packs– Applying heat and/or cold packs to the affected area can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy – A physical therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine. Stretches can also be used to help relieve pressure on your spine and increase flexibility.
  • Corticosteroid injections – Steroid medication, sometimes in combination with a numbing agent, can be injected directly into the affected part of the spine to temporarily relieve inflammation and pain.

If you’re still experiencing pain after trying different conservative bulging disc treatment options, your doctor may recommend surgery. Minimally invasive treatment for bulging disc can provide relief of symptoms without the long and uncomfortable recovery associated with traditional open back surgery. Surgery may be recommended right away if your bulging disc is interfering with your mobility or causing bladder or bowel control issues, which is considered a medical emergency.

Back Pain Centers of America offers patients minimally invasive back pain treatment options that can get you back to your active lifestyle as quickly as possible. If you’ve tried other back pain treatments without results, call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] today to learn more about how we can help you find the road to recovery and get back to living the active life you deserve.

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