Bulging Disc

Image of woman with back pain from a bulging disc

What Is A Bulging Disc?

 A bulging disc occurs when the cushion between vertebrae (intervertebral disc) loses its shape and puts pressure on a spinal nerve.

What Causes A Bulging Disc?

Bulging discs occur from weakening of the outer fibrous containment ring, most often linked to the aging process. It only becomes problematic when the bulge causes narrowing of the spinal canal. Bone spurs on the joints between the bulging disc hastens the narrowing process (also known as spinal stenosis)

Those at a higher risk for a symptomatic bulging disc include:

  • Smoking (weakening and eroding the disc)
  • Athletes or those with very demanding physical jobs
  • Those who sit with poor posture for prolonged periods of time

Symptoms of a Bulging Disc

 Bulging discs are typical in young adults and in the older population. As the disc bulges between the vertebrae and puts pressure on a nerve, symptoms occur to whatever body part is affected by the specific nerve.

Pressure on the spinal cord from bulging discs can cause:

  • Tingling in one or both legs
  • Muscle weakness or numbness
  • Change to bowel and bladder function
  • Paralysis below the waist
  • Neck pain
  • Pain around the shoulder blade
  • Pain spreading down the arm, forearm to the fingers

Pain from a bulging disc may gradually worsen over time but symptoms from a bulging disc can also resolve over several weeks or months.

Treatment Options for a Bulging Disc

Typically, surgery is not needed for bulging discs and can be managed with observation, pain medication and physical therapy. With these efforts and acupuncture, many people have resolution of their symptoms over time.

Surgery is advised if the symptoms progress with severe pain.

4 Types of Surgery for a Bulging Disc

There is more than one type of surgery recommended for a bulging disc involving:

  1. Discectomy- removing the disc to alleviate compression on the spinal cord (not done currently as nerve problems are associated with this)
  2. Laminotomy- making an opening in the lamina
  3. Transthoracic decompression- removing a small portion of the vertebral body and symptomatic disc through a small opening. If a large section must be removed, spinal fusion is commonly done
  4. Video Assisted Thoracoscopy (VATS)- using a small camera passed through a small incision to your chest cavity, the actual bulge is visualized and treated.

Bone fusion is done to support unstable sections when large sections of bone and disc material are removed. Bone grafts are used to encourage growth of unstable bones to mesh together. Rods, plates and screws are typically inserted to hold the bones in place while the graft is healing.

How Can I Treat A Bulging Disc On My Own?

Fortunately for most people suffering from bulging discs, 90% of these associated problems will heal within 3-6 months (as early as 30 days occasionally).

Top 10 Treatment Options You Can Do At Home Include:

  • Focus on maintaining a proper posture- perform posture exercises during the day to loosen muscle tightness of the neck, lower back and hamstrings.
  • Sit in a supportive ergonomic chair at work
  • Perform isometric stretch exercises to strengthen your core, neck and back. Do weight-bearing exercises to develop strength in the lower back
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods including leafy green vegetables, healthy fats and probiotics.
  • Eat lean and clean proteins (organic eggs and meat, wild-caught fish)
  • Use essential oils to reduce pain with massages, and heat
  • Apply heat packs to affected area
  • Add Epsom salts and essential oils (e.g. lavender and peppermint oils) to soaking hot baths
  • Muscles become weak with inactivity, putting more pressure on the spine.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle such as a daily walk, pool exercises with swimming and cycling. Staying mobile will lessen future injuries and inflammation.
  • Decrease body weight to prevent obesity or becoming overweight which puts more pressure on the spine
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