Bulging Disks vs Herniated Disks

Bulging disks cause back pain. It can be confusing to know the difference between a bulging disk, herniated disk, slipped disk, collapsed disk, ruptured dics, sequestered disk, 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.

Bulging Disks:

  • Caused by pressure that forces the disk to stretch and protrude outward
  • More common than a herniated disk
  • May go unnoticed more often since they tend to cause less pain
  • Caused by degeneration of the spine

Herniated Disks:

  • Involves a crack developing in the tough outer layer of the disk’s cartilage
  • This crack allows the disk’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 Disk Symptoms

Common symptoms of a bulging disks 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)
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches and muscle weakness

About 90 percent of bulging disks occur in the lower back, although they can occur at all spinal levels. Lumbar bulging disks can cause pain in the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, legs and feet. Thoracic bulging disks can cause pain in the abdomen, mid back, chest and hands. Cervical bulging disks can cause pain in the head, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands and fingers.

Anatomy of a Bulging Disk

Disks 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. Disks 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 disks. The disks become susceptible to being stretched, pulled or bulged out of their normal place. Once a disk bulges, it becomes wider and stretched. This creates a thinning or squashed effect that forces the disk out of its normal position. As it expands outward, a bulging disk can come into contact with sensitive neural tissues resulting in symptoms.

What Causes a Disk to Bulge?

Bulging disks are more common in older people, since aging causes intervertebral disls 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 disks)
  • 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 Disks vs Herniated Disks

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 disk. Taking a proactive approach to your health can in many cases prevent a bulging disk from getting worse and becoming a herniated disk or a sequester disk. Chiropractic care and Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression are effective in treating this condition with a natural approach that does not require medication, injections or surgery.

Want to learn more about how our doctors treat disk injuries?
Give us a call for a consultation at (619) 313-5403.

Gentle Adjustments. Powerful Results.

NUCCA Chiropractors | Upper Cervical Care
Intouch Chiropractic | San Diego, CA
(619) 313-5403