Bulging Discs vs Herniated Discs
Bulging discs cause back pain. It can be confusing to know the difference between a bulging disc, herniated disc, slipped disc, collapsed disc, ruptured disc, sequestered disc, etc. The good news is that despite the terminology confusion, they have many things in common. If you’ve been given multiple diagnoses and are confused about what is causing your back pain, here’s what you need to know.
- Caused by pressure that forces the disc to stretch and protrude outward
- More common than disc herniation
- May go unnoticed more often since they tend to cause less pain
- Caused by degeneration of the spine
- Involves a crack developing in the tough outer layer of the disc’s cartilage
- This crack allows the disc’s soft inner cartilage to spill through the crack and touch surrounding nerves
- Typically diagnosed right away as they are more symptomatic
- Caused by trauma and injury
- Most common in patients over 30 years of age
- Twice as common in men than women
Bulging Disc Symptoms
Common symptoms of a bulging discs are:
- Localized pain felt in the affected area
- Tingling or pain that travels down the extremities (arms, fingers, legs, toes)
- Numbness and weakness in the affected area
- Pain and numbness in the buttock and down the legs (sciatica-like pain)
- Muscle aches and muscle weakness
About 90 percent of bulging discs occur in the lower back, although they can occur at all spinal levels. Lumbar bulging discs can cause pain in the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, legs and feet. Thoracic bulging discs can cause pain in the abdomen, mid back, chest and hands. Cervical bulging discs can cause pain in the head, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands and fingers.
Anatomy of a Bulging Disc
Discs act like soft cushions that buffer the space between vertebrae (bones of the spinal column). They act like shock absorbers that help us be able to move freely. Discs have a soft, gel-like center (called the nucleus pulposus) made up of flexible cartilage. The nucleus pulposus is surrounded by a tough outer layer (the annulus fibrosus) that helps keep them in place.
As we get older, inflammation and micro-injuries begin to break down the outer layer (the fibrous portion) of the discs. The discs become susceptible to being stretched, pulled or bulged out of their normal place. Once a disc bulges, it becomes wider and stretched. This creates a thinning or squashed effect that forces the disc out of its normal position. As it expands outward, a bulging disc can come into contact with sensitive neural tissues resulting in symptoms.
What Causes a Disc to Bulge?
Bulging discs are more common in older people, since aging causes intervertebral discs to weaken over time. Other factors involved include:
- Lifestyle (poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drug use and high amounts of stress increase inflammation)
- Overuse (increased wear and tear of the discs)
- Decreased flexibility of the spine
- Trauma and injury to the spine
- Being overweight
- Degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis
- Improper form when exercising
- Excessive back and neck strain
- Poor posture
How We Help Our Patients: Bulging Discs vs Herniated Discs
As chiropractors, we always encourage patients to choose non-invasive, drug-free alternative treatment options first whenever possible. After all, a pill isn’t going to change the structure of a bulging disc. Taking a proactive approach to your health can in many cases prevent a bulging disc from getting worse and becoming a herniated disc or a sequester disc. Chiropractic care and Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression are effective in treating this condition with a natural approach that does not require medication, injections, back or neck surgery.
Want to learn more about non-surgical spinal decompression and how our doctors treat disc injuries?
Give us a call for a consultation at (619) 756-7510 and check out the information on our Sciatica & Lower Back Pain page.
NUCCA Chiropractors | Upper Cervical Care
Intouch Chiropractic | San Diego, CA