Bulging discs describe a condition in which the disc has moved out of its original position within the spine. It occurs when the outer layer of the disc, a fibrous tissue becomes damaged, torn or weakened. This makes the disc less able to contain its inner portion, the nucleus pulposus, causing the inner portion to bulge or press against the outer layer. If the disc bulges or presses on surrounding spinal nerves, it can lead to symptoms such as pain, tingling, weakness, and numbness within the area, although in some cases there may be no symptoms. Depending on the spinal nerve affected, it may also cause referred symptoms to other areas such as the neck, arms, legs, and feet. Symptoms may be exacerbated by certain movements making if difficult for patients to engage in daily activities.
Bulging discs can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as trauma to the spine, sudden twists or turns. The natural aging process also causes the discs to lose their elasticity, become dehydrated and more prone to wear and tear. Repetitive movements such as sitting, bending and squatting, can also place strain on the spine and lead to deterioration of the discs. Other causes include degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis. Those who engage in high impact exercise which places stress on the spine or occupations which require heavy lifting, including those who are overweight, are more prone to developing bulging discs. However, exercise should not be avoided altogether, as it can help to promote flexibility, reduce weight gain, build up muscle and strength to the spine, and provide protection from developing back conditions later on.
Your doctor will carry out a compressive examination to determine the cause of your back pain and to rule out serious conditions such as fractures or tumors. You may be offered diagnostic tests such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, or blood tests to rule out infections or inflammatory disease. Your doctor may suggests pain relievers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and advise rest for a short period of time. In some cases, symptoms may resolve by themselves and you will be encouraged to return to activity as soon as possible to prevent muscle atrophy, weakening of the spine and further back problems. Alternatively, spinal decompression, chiropractic care, physical and rehabilitative therapy may prove very beneficial. Other treatment options include muscle relaxants, spinal injections, ultrasound therapy, electrical stimulation, and massage. For those with whom back pain is chronic, severe, and for whom symptoms do not respond to other forms of therapy, surgery may be recommended. As surgery is associated with risks and side effects, it is important to discuss the pros and cons carefully with your doctor. Fortunately, many people respond well to non-surgical options and preventative care.