When the degenerative disc between two vertebral bodies bulges away from its initial position or becomes compressed, a bulging disc can result. Most people assume a bulging disc is the same as a herniated disc. However, the two are different. The whole disc degenerates or is displaced from its original position with a bulging disc. On the other hand, a herniated disc is characterized by the herniation of the interior softer material through the cracks in your outer disc layers. A bulging disc can be challenging when it impinges on sensitive neural elements like nerve roots or the spinal cord. When the bulging disc is chronically inflamed or when it puts pressure on the nerves, you could experience pain. There are several ways of treating a bulging disc, including surgery. If you need reliable treatment for a bulging disc in Los Angeles, LAMIS Institute can help.
Causes And Risk Factors Of A Bulging Disc
The discs between your vertebrae have a fluid that holds the discs in place and cushions them. Some of this fluid is lost as we age, making the discs shift out of place. Even if a bulging disc mainly occurs in the lumbar region (lower back), it can occur at any point on your spine.
A bulging disc can result from an injury or trauma like a car accident, infection, illness, or arthritis. Other risk factors include the following:
- Engaging in a job that involves lifting heavy objects.
- Engaging in certain types of physical activities, mainly activities that involve repetitive movements.
- Being overweight or having obesity.
- Driving frequently.
- Limited physical activity or having a sedentary lifestyle.
- Smoking can enhance degeneration by limiting the supply of oxygen to the discs.
Exercising regularly, practicing proper posture, and adhering to a balanced diet can help improve the pain caused by a bulging disc without seeking medical treatment. However, if the back pain worsens over time, you should consult a healthcare expert. You should also consult a physician if your pain intensifies.
The Common Symptoms Of A Bulging Disc
You could have a bulging disc if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Leg or arm weakness.
- A tingling feeling in your legs or buttocks.
- Pain in your lower back, arms, or neck.
- Numbness in your limbs.
Diagnosing a Bulging Disc
A doctor considers several aspects of the pain when determining the cause of pain in a patient’s back or legs. First, the doctor will inquire about your medical history.
When did you first notice the pain? What activity were you engaged in when you first noticed the pain, and what makes the pain worse? How does the back or leg pain feel like? Is the pain dull or a burning sensation? Does staying in one position ease the pain while another makes the pain worse? Does the pain seem to radiate to your legs or arms?
The doctor could also perform a physical examination to assess your muscle strength and nerve function. For example, your doctor could manipulate your limbs or apply pressure to see what triggers a pain sensation. In addition, a physical examination helps to assess the following:
- Pain — Involves assessing whether the patient experiences pain when touched, with motion, or when pressure is applied to the lower back.
- Muscle strength — The doctor will look for muscle wasting, atrophy, and abnormal movement.
- Nerve function — Your doctor could use a hot and cold stimulus to determine your nerve response. This process could also involve using a reflex hammer to test your nerve function.
Several diagnostic tests will also come in handy in assessing the bulging disc:
- Imaging tests.
A discogram involves injecting dye into the soft center of your disc or several discs. This dye shows up on an x-ray or CT scan.
MRIs and CT scans can show the discs, spinal nerves, and how other spinal components are aligned.
Any of your spinal discs can bulge. However, 90% of the time, bulging discs occur in the lower spinal area/lumbar area. This is because most of your body’s weight lies on this part of the spine. Discs in the neck area (cervical spine) are not likely to bulge.
Bulging Disc Vs. Herniated Disc
Your spinal discs offer cushion between the vertebrae. In your youth, these discs are usually soft and malleable. They have a gel-like interior surrounded by a strong layer of cartilage. The discs dry out and lose moisture as we age, making the cartilage stiffen. These changes could make the outer layer of your disc bulge. A problem could occur with the nerve interaction when the discs bulge and push beyond the edge of your vertebrae.
In most cases, a herniated disc starts as a bulging disc. However, the intense pressure makes the outer layer of the cartilage herniate (crack). A herniated disc could also result from lifting a heavy object incorrectly or through a traumatic injury. A herniated disc is also called a ruptured disc or slipped disc. However, these names do not always provide an accurate description of a herniated disc.
The Risks of a Bulging Disc
What happens when you do not seek treatment for a bulging disc?
Most people have a bulging disc, but it does not impact their life in any way since they have no symptoms. However, if the pressure pushes the disc outward and brings it into contact with the nearby nerve roots that exit from the spine, you could experience intense pain. As the condition persists, you could experience devastating chronic pain.
When a disc bulges outside, it cannot return to its original position where it is confined in the boundaries of the vertebrae. However, this does not mean that the condition cannot be corrected. The condition can be treated through surgical or non-surgical methods.
Doctors will first try the non-invasive treatment options, with surgery as the last option. For example, if the bulging disc is only causing mild pain, the doctor could use core strengthening exercises, anti-inflammatory medications, postural training, massage, physical therapy, braces, and chiropractic treatment. Making a few lifestyle changes could be enough to ease the pain of a bulging disc.
However, if you experience severe chronic pain from the bulging disc, it could impede your quality of life by making you unable to move. You could have to give up participating in certain activities like sports that you previously used to enjoy. A compressed nerve could cause you pain, making you unable to work. In addition, a continued lack of mobility could affect other areas of your life.
Whether You Need Surgery
Doctors usually consider surgery the last resort when other treatment options fail. Usually, surgery is necessary when you have severe, chronic pain. If you need to undergo surgery, your doctor will guide you on how to prepare.
The first treatment for a bulging disc is ice packs and heating pads. Other treatment options include resting the affected area and taking anti-inflammatory medication. The doctor could also recommend physical therapy to strengthen your back.
Sometimes, spinal steroid injections can help relieve pain. In addition, core strengthening exercises and physical therapy can follow the injection.
In extreme cases, a bulging disc calls for surgical intervention. Surgery helps to decompress the nerves and remove the affected disc. You must undergo an interbody fusion procedure if the entire disc is removed. Sometimes, your doctor could perform an artificial disc replacement. Your healthcare provider will advise you on the best method of treating your condition.
Procedures Conducted During A Bulging Disc Surgery
Surgery could be an option if non-surgical treatment fails to relieve your pain within a few months. Especially when you have radiating pain down your arms or legs due to a compressed disc, back surgery could be the best option. Likewise, when bulging discs are tightly compressed, and normal functions are disrupted, surgery is a great option for relieving the source of the pain.
Since back pain is a complicated condition, it is crucial to be examined by several different back specialists. In addition, surgery could be necessary depending on your overall health, age, and degree of disc injury. Any of the following procedures can be performed during back surgery.
With a discectomy, your surgeon can remove the portion of the disc pressing on your nerves with the least damage. No incisions are needed for this back surgery. A small probe scrapes the bulging extra cartilage from your back instead.
Artificial Disc Replacements
To repair the injured disc, advanced metal implants or polyethylene are used. Following your recovery, you can resume your normal functioning thanks to total disc replacement, which also alleviates the pain.
Selective Endoscopic Discectomy
With this treatment, you can avoid general anesthesia. Instead, your spinal doctor examines the injury with a tiny tube coupled to a light and camera, removes the protruding cartilage, and cauterizes the treatment site with a laser.
This alternative, minimally invasive back surgery, is highly effective if your condition results from aging-related degenerative disc disease. The affected disc is replaced with bone grafts and metal, fused below and above the attached vertebrae.
It is normal to feel some discomfort as you recover from back surgery. However, in most cases, especially if you have not undergone general anesthesia, like with minimally invasive procedures, you could go home the same day. You will receive detailed recovery instructions, including diet, pain management, and exercise.
Before The Surgery
Bulging disc surgery is usually performed in a hospital or a specialized surgical facility. However, you could be admitted to a hospital if you have a severe medical problem that necessitates monitoring.
In addition, if your surgery involves multiple discs in your spine, which carries a higher risk, your physician could perform the procedure in the hospital. If this is the case, you can spend one evening in the treatment center following surgery before returning home.
Your surgery could be at a dedicated outpatient facility for single and uncomplicated disc issues. Then, you could return home just a few hours after the procedure.
What To Wear
Wear appropriate clothing that is easy to manage on the day of surgery. Your surgeon will most likely require you to change into a comfortable hospital gown. However, you should note that wearing certain clothing after your operation could be difficult. If you know you will be staying in the hospital overnight, carry your robe and slippers, as well as a change of underwear and, preferably, a change of clothing.
You could be on prescription medication before the bulging disc surgery. Your doctor will advise you on when you should stop taking certain medications. Sometimes, the surgeon could allow you to continue taking the prescription drug.
You could be required to bring the medication to the surgery. The hospital staff will inform you whether they will keep the medicine for you during the procedure and assist you in resuming your medication after surgery.
Inform your surgeon if you use herbal supplements or vitamins. Some over-the-counter supplements could interact negatively with medications used during or following surgery. Therefore, your doctor could advise you to discontinue their use temporarily before the bulging disc surgery.
Recovering After Surgery
Nerve decompression surgery aims to reduce the compression or pressure on the nerves. The treatment could involve removing the whole disc and fusing the adjoining vertebrae. The surgical treatment could also include removing the lamina and the back of the vertebrae to create ample space for the nerves. Open surgery has a difficult recovery compared to minimally invasive treatment options. Your doctor will advise you on what to expect after the surgery.
The Success Rate Of Bulging Disc Surgery
After surgery, will you need additional treatment in the future? Decompression spine surgery has a high success rate. Around 90% of surgery patients enjoy full relief from their back or leg pain. However, this does not mean that the pain cannot recur, especially if there is excessive pressure or injury at the treatment site. The pain could also recur if you have another bulging disc in the future.
Find a Bulging Disc Surgeon Near Me
A bulging disc is a disorder that develops gradually over time. Although it is more common in older people, it can also occur in younger people. There are few symptoms, and early detection can only be made through physical exams and scans that reveal disc positioning and shape changes. Some people could feel sensations ranging from tingling to different degrees of pain. If you have a bulging disc and require reliable treatment in Los Angeles, we invite you to contact the LAMIS Institute. Call us at 310-734-6088 to speak to one of our experts.