Bulging Disc

What is a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc refers to an issue with the disc material that sits between the individual bones making up the vertebrae in the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers and cushions for the bones. The discs are similar to a jelly donut, with a soft center surrounded by a tough, protective exterior. When bulging, some of the “jelly” will protrude through a tear in the exterior, resulting in extreme chronic pain or discomfort. Bulging discs are common among middle-aged people, and they tend to occur in the lower part of the spine.

Symptoms of Bulging Disc

The most appropriate treatment option for a bulging disc will depend on the severity of the condition. If the disc injury is mild enough, simply resting for a few days is enough to alleviate the pain. For people suffering from persistent, chronic pain, conservative treatment options could include:

Symptoms of bulging disc depend on where in the spine the disc is located. These symptoms include:

Thoracic spine

  • Muscle weakness, tingling in one or both the legs, overall numbness
  • Bowel or bladder function changes
  • Paralysis from the waist down
  • Increased reflexes in one or both of the legs

Cervical spine

  • Pain while moving the neck
  • Pain that is deep near or over the shoulder blade
  • Radiating pain in the upper arm, forearm and sometimes fingers

Causes of Bulging Disc

Beyond natural wear and tear, factors that can increase the risk for bulging disc include:

  • Gender. Men between 30 and 50-years-old are the group most likely to suffer from a bulging disc.
  • Lifting heavy objects improperly. Lifting heavy objects with the back instead of the legs or twisting while lifting can both increase the risk for a bulging disc.
  • Body weight. Carrying excess body weight increases the stress on discs.
  • Repetitive, spine-straining activities. Certain occupations, including those that involve a lot of pulling, bending or twisting, can place a substantial strain on the spine.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Remaining in a sitting position for prolonged periods can increase the strain on the spine. Frequent driving is also an associated risk factor.
  • Smoking. Nicotine can restrict blood flow to spinal discs, which can hasten degeneration and inhibit healing. Degenerated discs are less pliable and therefore more likely to bulge.

Treatment Options for Bulging Disc

The most appropriate treatment option for a bulging disc will depend on the severity of the condition. If the disc injury is mild enough, simply resting for a few days is enough to alleviate the pain. For people suffering from persistent, chronic pain, conservative treatment options could include:

  • Oral steroids to lower inflammation and support pain relief
  • Oral medications for severe pain
  • A combination of physical therapy and exercise to take pressure off the nerve root
  • Epidural injections to lower pain and inflammation
  • Manual traction to help open up the cervical foramen where the nerve root exits the spinal canal

In some cases, conservative treatment options are not effective enough for all patients with bulging discs. Prior to considering surgery, your orthopaedic surgeon will most likely conduct imaging tests like X-rays or an MRI scan to help determine the extent of the condition and decide what surgery would be most best. Surgery to address a bulging disc most often involves removing the part of the disc that that protruding. The types of surgeries include:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) - ACDF involves removing a disc from the cervical spine, which is in the neck, and placing a bone graft and/or implants in the area where the disc was to create stability.
  • Cervical Disc Replacement - During cervical disc replacement, a surgeon takes out the cervical (neck) bulging disc and replaces it with an artificial disc. This eliminates the need for a fusion procedure.
  • Cervical Laminoforaminotomy - This procedure, also called a posterior discectomy, is used to remove arthritic bone spurs and bulging discs from the back of the spine.
  • Microdiscectomy - This procedure removes a bulging disc from the lower back. This can be done with a relatively small open incision or even through tubes inserted into the operative area.

Bone and Joint Health at Adena Health System

When it comes to treating tendonitis, the team of orthopedic specialists at Adena Health System is fully dedicated to get you the best care available and to connect you with a dependable doctor or physical therapist to help treat your condition as effectively as possible. Adena follows a conservative approach to care — beginning with the least invasive treatment available and progressing to more aggressive care to make sure you get the pain relief you need to live a happy, healthy life. Need help finding a healthcare provider? Search Adena Health System online or call 740-779-FIND (3463).

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