Your spine is formed by several small bones piled one above the other called vertebrae. All these small bones combine to form the spinal column. Naturally, to prevent erosion between the vertebra, a tough layered disc filled with a soft gel-like substance(nucleus pulposus) is formed. It acts as a cushion (a shock absorber) between the bones by absorbing pressure and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other.
Either due to trauma or any other condition, these discs might damage, and one such condition is a disc bulge or bulging disk.
What is a disc bulge?
A bulging disc or disc bulge is a condition where the nucleus pulposus of the spinal disc swells out when it is compressed but remain within the disc. This protrusion of the gelly substance narrows the spinal and creates pressure on the nerve roots surrounding the disc. This results in pain that radiates to various body parts depending on the bulging disc location.
The discs make the back movements easier. The condition commonly occurs in the lumbar spine.
Sometimes disc bugle is misunderstood as a herniated disc where the disc bulges to an extreme level and the nucleus leaks out of the disc. If the bulging disc is not treated, it might turn out into a herniated disc, which is more painful and require prompt treatment.
Causes Of Bulging Disc
Bulging discs might be a result of various conditions. Possibly age-related(increasing age) degenerative changes is the most common cause that occurs in your spine. Degenerative changes mean the wear and tear effects of the disc that grows over time.
Other causes risk factor that may result in bulging disc include:
- Damage of discs due to an injury to spine
- sedentary lifestyle – people who smoke increase the risk of the bulging disc.
- Heavy lifting can strain your disc continuously, which eventually wear them down over the years.
- Weak back muscles can suddenly cause herniation of the disc.
- Poor posture due to abnormal body positioning while sleeping, sitting, standing or doing exercise may also lead to a bulging disc.
- Obesity – Excess weight adds pressure on your spine and discs
- Playing contact sports or any other activities that involve the risk of back injuries might also cause disc bulge.
- Any activity that strains your spine can weaken your discs.
Usually, bulging discs condition affects various discs, and it develops gradually over time. It can also lead to disc degeneration problems like lumbar stenosis.
Symptoms of a bulging disc
The symptoms vary from person to person based on some factors like severity and location of the disc bulge in the spine. Initially, the condition might be symptomless in some people, but with time the increased swelling of the disc pressurises the nerve roots and may cause the following symptoms:
- back pain that increases with certain movement
- Muscles spasms in your back
- A weak and numb feeling in legs and feet
- Decreased movement in the knees and ankles
- Improper bladder and bowel movements
- Facing difficulty while walking
- Sciatica due to narrowed spinal canal
- Reduced coordination
A herniated disc in the upper spine can also cause symptoms similar to this condition. However, you may feel symptoms in your upper body, including numbness and weakness, rather than the legs. The pain can also spread to different parts of the body, such as the arms or chest.
Treatment For Disc bulge
Various non-surgical treatment procedures are available to treat disc bulge if it is diagnosed before becoming herniated. However, about 10% of cases with bulging discs only require surgical treatment. In most cases, the treatment in the early stages of bulging disc involves lifestyle changes & pain management procedures.
The treatment varies depending on the severity, and below are the most common treatment options and lifestyle changes to be followed by a person with a bulging disc.
Medications: people who are experiencing mild to moderate pain can be managed with the help of OTC(over the counter) anti-inflammatory medications.
Similarly, using heating pads and ice packs is also a good option to manage pain in mild cases of a bulging disc.
Change in body postures and associated behaviours: this is a simple lifestyle hack that decreases your pain and discomfort. You should improve your sitting and sleeping posture, which is one of the main factors which might cause a bulging disc.
Physical therapy: Most spine doctor recommends it because it helps to relieve pressure and regain lost mobility, as well as it also improves strength in your back muscles.
Weight management and exercise: If the bulging disc is caused due to overweight, probably it is recommended to reduce weight and an exercise routine to reduce the stress on your spine. Exercise can also ease pain in that affected area.
Tape or brace: Sometimes, doctors might advise you to wear a tape or a brace to support the affected area.
Surgery: it is rare, but in severe cases, spinal decompression surgery or minimally invasive surgery is performed to fix the problem. Minimally invasive surgical treatments such as endoscopic spine surgery are becoming more common to provide relief from the pain. Spine surgeons use minor surgical techniques to fix the bulging disc.
A disc bulge is a medical ailment that progresses over long periods. Although it is common with increasing age, it can affect young people also. Diagnosing and treating the condition as early as possible can prevent it from worsening. If you are having any back problems, never hesitate to contact Dr. Surya Prakash, one of the best spine doctors in Hyderabad. He has more than 23 years of experience in treating various spine conditions, including disc bulge and herniated disc.