5 Bulging Disc Symptoms You Should Know

bulging disc symptoms cover photo

5 Bulging Disc Symptoms You Should Know

It’s a popular misconception that bulging discs are the same as herniated (or “slipped”) discs. And, as far as spinal problems go, each issue does fall within the same category. The conditions even boast similar symptoms, and in some cases, they share the same root causes.

Considering these facts, it’s no wonder that people often confuse the two for one another. At the end of the day, however, follow this simple piece of advice: Seek out medical treatment if your symptoms persist over a period of two weeks or more.

Naturally, the most common similarity between these conditions is the area of the body that they affect. As you have perhaps guessed, each of these ailments results in damage to the body’s discs. For context, intervertebral discs are spongy structures that rest between the bony vertebrae of the spine. They are essentially akin to jelly donuts. They have a hard outer shell with a softer filling in the center.

Similar to how synovial fluid lubricates your joints, discs serve as a special type of cushion in between your vertebrae. These rubber spacers increase the flexibility of your spine and safeguard it from damage. When these structures suffer injury, however, it can result in a slew of painful symptoms.

Luckily, there are plenty of both conservative and surgical treatments available for bulging discs. Usually, surgery is not necessary, but if less invasive methods prove ineffective, then your doctor may consider a special procedure to treat your symptoms. For more information about your options, please contact Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery at (855) 853-6542.

spine with bulging disc

What Causes Bulging Discs?

A lot of problems involving the discs of the spine are traceable to natural degenerative processes. Your spine is a complex structure with many moving parts that work in tandem to achieve even the most basic forms of movement. Like all things mechanical, repetitive use of any system eventually results in the parts becoming damaged. Of course, you have no choice but to use your spine on a daily basis. Degeneration just comes as a natural part of the aging process.

It would be incorrect to assume, however, that degeneration is the only way to fall victim to a bulging disc. While everyone experiences some form of age-related wear and tear that doesn’t mean everyone develops a bulging disc. That being said, you may experience a bulging disc because of trauma from events such as a car accident or fall. Additionally, there are other risk factors that contribute to the formation of bulging discs. These include factors such as genetic predisposition and congenital disc deformities, for example.

So, what exactly is a bulging disc? A bulging disc refers to an instance in which outside pressure on the structure results in the disc ballooning outward. Similar to a herniated disc, this distension can cause pressure on adjacent nerve endings, or in some cases, even the spinal cord itself. In rare instances, this causes no symptoms at all, meaning that you could have a bulging disc and not even know it. In other instances, however, the patient may experience a slew of negative symptoms that interfere with his or her everyday life.

Signs That You May Have a Bulging Disc

Bulging discs typically occur at the cervical (neck) and thoracic (mid) levels of the spine. The location of the condition is relevant, as it affects the symptoms you may experience. Generally speaking, however, you should watch out for the five following symptoms:

  • Pain: This should be obvious, but it is important to note that pain in and of itself has interesting properties—especially when it comes to issues regarding the spine. Pain for a bulging disc may have a sudden or delayed onset. Additionally, depending on which nerves are pressured, it may even feel as if the pain is coming from elsewhere in the body, such as the extremities or your heart and kidneys. The pain may even appear to move around and radiate to other areas in the body, such as the arms and legs.
  • Loss of Bladder/Bowel Functions: This is quite rare, but if you notice this symptom, seek out medical attention immediately. This symptom can indicate oncoming (and potentially permanent) paralysis of the limbs.
  • Paralysis: You probably won’t experience this with your bulging disc, but if you do, your legs are more likely to be affected than your arms. If you experience this symptom, contact a doctor immediately.
  • Muscle Weakness/Numbness: There is a good chance that the nerves affected by a bulging disc innervate muscles elsewhere in the body. When this happens, the muscles served by these nerves may weaken and lose sensation.
  • Neurological Symptoms: Bulging discs are also known to cause tingling or “pins and needles” sensations in one or both legs. This is quite common, however, and not considered a serious complication like some of the items above.

sciatica and leg pain from bulging disc

How Are Bulging Discs Diagnosed?

If the doctor suspects that you have a bulging disc, there is a general set of steps that he or she will take to confirm a diagnosis. First of all, your doctor will ask you a series of questions involving your medical history as well as the nature of your symptoms.

After this questionnaire, your doctor will likely conduct a physical examination. This serves as a bit of an elaboration to the questions regarding your symptoms. Your doctor will evaluate your condition by performing specific motions or applying pressure to certain areas. Doing so allows your doctor to determine the location and severity of your pain. In addition, your doctor may also check the reflexes in your arms and legs to test for atrophied muscles.

Once your doctor has established a general idea of what is going on, he or she will order a series of diagnostic tests. Usually, with bulging discs, this means either a simple X-ray test or an MRI. Tests such as these not only confirm a diagnosis (once symptoms have been established), but they will also provide your doctor with an unobstructed view of the damaged structures.

Bulging Disc Treatment Options

As with most medical problems, bulging disc treatments can be divided into conservative and surgical options. Again, most of the time surgery is not necessary and typically your doctor will exhaust all conservative options before opting for a procedure. As far as conservative treatments go, there are a variety of viable options. For example, nerve root blocks and steroid injections will provide the patient with temporary relief for up to one year. (And, of course, this is a repeatable treatment). Over-the-counter pain medications may also provide adequate relief for patients with a bulging disc. In some cases, your doctor may even install a spinal cord stimulator to lessen the painful symptoms that occur with bulging discs.

spinal fusion to correct bulging disc

But what if these methods don’t work? Generally, there are two common surgical procedures that doctors perform for bulging discs. Minimally invasive decompression surgery is a popular option that has a high success rate. As you might imagine, the goal of this procedure is to lessen the pressure that a bulging disc causes on adjacent spinal nerves. Your doctor accomplishes this feat by removing either infringing soft tissues (such as disc material) or offending bone matter (such as the lamina). By removing these structures that cause pressure on nearby nerves, negative symptoms begin to dissipate.

The other common procedure doctors perform for bulging discs is fusion. This shares a similar goal with decompression surgery. For instance, the doctor will remove damaged disc tissue that presses on nearby nerves. However, fusion also involves fusing bones together in order to increase stability in the spine. As you can guess, this naturally requires more specialized hardware. Like decompression surgery, this procedure may also be performed in a minimally invasive fashion. If possible, this offers a faster recovery time and is considered generally safer than traditional open surgery.

Contact Us

Are you experiencing any of the negative symptoms mentioned above? If so, it’s not a bad idea to get in touch with Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery. At our facilities, you will find highly trained, board-certified surgeons as well as a passionate medical staff. Our team will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive an individualized treatment plan that works best for the specifics of your case. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. We will make sure that you are able to return to your normal activities as soon as possible.