Back pain is very common, but its causes vary greatly. A bulging or protruding disc is one of the most common causes of back pain. This condition can happen at any age, however, it is more prevalent in the elderly. The discs in our spine act as cushions to counter compressive forces. A disc can bulge for various reasons to create pressure on the spinal structures and nerves to cause pain, tingling, or other symptoms.
What is a Bulging Disc?
Bulging disc is a common age-related condition that affects the discs of your spine. In humans, the spine consists of 33 vertebrae. These vertebrae have cushion-like connective tissue discs in between which are filled with gel-like material to act as shock absorbers and aid movement. In many cases, the disc gets displaced from its normal position to produce a bulge towards the weakest point of its shell. Hence, a disc bulge is nothing but a generalized extension of the disc tissue beyond the perimeter of the vertebrae, usually around 1-4 mm. This bulge or protrusion often causes nerve compression to produce symptoms like:
- Pain or tingling in fingers, arms, legs, neck, hand, feet, buttocks, or shoulders.
- Back pain that is aggravated with sitting or movements
- Difficulty in walking, lifting, or holding things.
However, bulging disc doesn’t always compress nerves and thus, can present itself with no symptoms at all, but it is important to address it early as it can progress into a herniated disc eventually.
Causes & Risk Factors of Bulging Discs
- Poor posture or sitting for extended hours can put pressure on the discs
- Obesity &/or smoking
- A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity
- Heavy lifting coupled with poor posture
- Constant strain on the disc with certain activities and lack of support
What Are The Bulging Disc Treatment Options
A bulging disc is a medical condition with varying levels of severity, based on the disc shape, position, and size of the bulge. While some experienced extreme sensations of pain and tingling, others show little or no symptoms. Therefore, early detection of the condition becomes difficult without medical testing and scans. Whatever be the severity of the condition, the primary objective of the treatment is the alleviation of pain and other symptoms. To achieve this goal, it’s important to individualize the treatment plan based on the symptoms that the patient exhibits. There are many ways with which people can manage a bulging disc, these include:
Acute muscle and ligament injuries need time to heal. 1 to 2 days of bed rest usually help to relieve symptoms. However, staying off your feet for longer is not recommended.
2. Lifestyle Modifications
Avoid sitting for long periods and perform slow and controlled physical activities, especially while bending forward.
It is important to make sure you get into physical activity as early as possible. Physical activity helps to keep a check on the body weight and also strengthens the core and abdominal muscles for support.
4. Physical Therapy
After an in-depth evaluation, your doctor can prescribe a combination of various therapies like pelvic traction, massage, ice & heat therapy, exercises, muscle stimulation, and ultrasound to improve your condition.
5. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
If the pain is only mild to moderate, NSAIDs like naproxen or ibuprofen can help to relieve pain.
6. Epidural steroid injections
With the help of X-rays, steroid medication can be directed to the exact location of the disc protrusion to provide short-term relief from pain and inflammation.
Percutaneous discectomy is the most common procedure to treat a single disc protrusion. The procedure involves creating a small incision at the level of the disc bulge under X-ray supervision and removing excess disc material from the affected disc to relieve symptoms. There are certain minor risks associated with every surgical procedure like nerve injury, bleeding, infection, and reaction to anesthesia. Overall, the results of discectomy are generally very good. Most patients see improvement of leg, neck, and back pain and can resume their normal activities after a short period of recovery.
Most people who are diagnosed with bulging disc show improvement with conservative treatment methods and surgery is often not required. However, with less improvement of pain and in function, your doctor might recommend a surgical option. Only a small percentage of patients with bulging discs require surgery.
If you suffer from a bulging disc or other spine-related problems and want to know more about your treatment options, schedule an appointment with us today.