model of a herniated disc doctor pointing

Discs act as the cushioning between the individual vertebrae in the spine. They consist of cartilage – soft cartilage on the inside with an outer layer of tough cartilage. There are 23 vertebral discs in the back which have three prominent roles: act as a shock absorber, allow spinal mobility, and hold the vertebrae together. 

The discs are primarily water at birth, and as you age, they dehydrate and degenerate. Because of this, the joints tend to become stiff. These normal and unpreventable changes in the spine can cause pain and abnormalities in the discs and their physical structure. 

The terms “bulging disc” and “herniated disc” are likely familiar. They are both common in patients who suffer from back pain, but are very different conditions.  

What is a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc happens when the disc becomes dehydrated, and its width gets bigger. Think of a hotdog that is too big for the roll. The outer layer of tough cartilage layer is affected. 

Age-related conditions like lumbar stenosis and other degenerative issues can be the root cause of bulging discs. Due to its degenerative nature, the symptoms can take a long time to appear. The pain can radiate down the buttocks, upper legs, and most commonly, the back. 

There are many available treatment options, depending on your pain and the number of discs that are affected. 

  • Short term treatments include anti-inflammatory medications & steroid injections.
  • Long term treatments tend to include an exercise program or lumbar decompression.

What is a Herniated Disc?

Herniated discs are also referred to as ruptured or slipped discs and are typically much more painful than bulging discs. This is because herniated discs occur when a crack in the outer cartilage exposes the inner, soft layer of cartilage. Soft cartilage can excrete through the cracked outer layer and reach nerve roots, causing immense pain. 

Herniated discs are frequently caused by acute injuries or strain on the back. This could be due to movements like twisting, lifting heavy objects, or in some cases, obesity. The added weight and stress on the spine can cause ruptures. A sedentary lifestyle causes the back to become weak and causes discs to become herniated. 

Herniated discs can be prevented by keeping proper body weight, doing core-strengthening exercises, and maintaining good posture while sitting and standing. 

There are a variety of treatment options: 

  • Over-the-counter medications used to treat for mild to moderate pain.
  • Cortisone injections suppress inflammation around the nerve area. 
  • Physical therapy improves posture and teaches exercises designed to minimize specific types of pain.
  • Surgery: If more conservative treatment fail, and you experience numbness, loss of bladder control, or difficulty standing, surgery might be best suitable for you.

Herniated bulging discs can be treated without surgery in most cases. It has become more accessible and more manageable for physicians to treat back pain with non-medicated techniques with evolving technology. 

To learn more about diagnostics and treatments for a bulging disc and herniated disc, please contact the team at Precision Spine care using the form below. We look forward to helping you!

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