What is a disc bulge? It is a condition wherein a part of the disc extends beyond the normal limits and the internal part of the disc remains intact in the fibrous ring. The bulging is always broad, thus, the term, broad based disc bulge.
What is a broad based disc bulge?
It means that a part of the soft disc center breaks through at about 25% to 50% disc’s circumference.A comparison image between a bulging disc and a herniated disc – image credit: Ehealthstar-com
What are the symptoms of a disc protrusion/bulging disc?
- Noticeable pain in the neck
- Pain in the lower back
- Pain and numbing sensation in the arm or leg
- Pain in the spinal area including the lower and middle back.
- Pain and tingling sensation that travel down to the fingers, wrist, and toes.
- Weakness and numbing sensation in the bulged disc area.
- Inability to move normally secondary to throbbing pain and muscle weakness. (1, 2, 3, and 4)
What to keep in mind?
A bulging disc does not only develop in the back but as well in other parts of the body. It happens when an abnormal disc gets in contact with the nerves connecting to the hips, buttocks, legs, and other areas of the body including the neck and feet. The type of pain is one of the parameters used to determine the exact location of the bulging disc.
- Pain in the abdomen, buttocks, leg and feet are associated with a lumbar bulging disc.
- Pain in the neck, head, shoulders, arms, wrists, elbows, hands, and fingers are most likely caused by cervical bulging discs.
- Pain in the hands, chest, back, and abdomen is caused by a thoracic bulging disc. (4, 5)
What are the causes of bulging discs?
- Age has something to do with a bulging disc. Research showed that it is more common in people over 30 years old than the younger ones.
- Poor posture
- Growing pressure around the disc.
- Wear and tear of the disc
- Injury affecting the spine and neck
- Severe inflammation secondary to a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, stress, and smoking
- Too much exertion during exercise such as an incorrect way of lifting heavy weights.
- Loss of mobility and flexibility in the spine.
- Degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis.
- Being tall (5, 6)
A bulging disc is a diagnosis itself but some imaging studies have to be performed such as x-rays and MRI scan. The result of the imaging study should correlate with the symptoms and result of physical examination.
What can be done for a bulging disc?
Treatment and management for bulging discs are a must. Such a condition should not be taken lightly. There are various ways to address problems concerning a disc bulge. These are the following:
- Medications – The doctor usually puts the patient on anti-inflammatory and pain reliever to manage the symptoms. However, medications only manage the symptoms and not really cure the underlying cause.
- Spinal adjustment – After a thorough assessment and diagnosis, the chiropractor will perform a spinal adjustment to realign the spinal disc and prevent protrusion into the spinal canal. Spinal adjustment usually includes muscle stimulation, flexion-distraction, physiotherapy, supplementation, and various forms of exercises.
- Physical therapy – Physical therapy is needed if the patient cannot move or work normally secondary to pain. There are various forms of exercises designed to improve one’s strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
- Staying active – One of the reasons for having a bulging disc is sitting for a long period of time. Staying active is one of the practical ways to manage and prevent a disc bulge. Staying active is even more needed if you are overweight. There are some activities you can do provided you are not in severe pain. Some simple exercises you can do to manage and prevent disc bulge include the following:
- Weight-bearing exercises
- Simple body weight exercises
The exercise routine is customized according to the patient’s fitness level.
- Sleep and rest – performing strenuous activities can compromise your health. It can lead to the weakening of the disc. So, always make it a habit to get an adequate amount of sleep and rest. If you are exercising heavily or working in an industry that requires heavy lifting, you have to make sure you rest in between workout and work.
- Correct your posture – Poor posture is one of the reasons for bulging of the disc. Sitting down behind a desk all day can weaken the disc. Get up around and stretch frequently. Take a few minutes break. It would help a lot if you are going to incorporate some targeted posture exercises.
- Watch your diet – Your diet should consist of foods with anti-inflammatory properties and less of sugar and processed foods. Some of the foods you should include in your diet are green and leafy vegetables, lean proteins like eggs, fish, and grass-fed meat, healthy fats like coconut oil and olive oil, and fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi as they contain probiotics.
- Acupuncture methods – Traditional Chinese medicines are tested and proven effective in pain management. It uses tiny needles to unleash the natural flow of energy of the body. It is pain-free and can alleviate pain. You can also use essential oil, heat therapy, and massage therapy. (6, 7, 8, 9, and 10)
What happens if a bulging disc goes untreated?
A patient with a bulging disc usually has a good prognosis, especially when treated in a timely manner. The issue is when the condition is diagnosed as a bulging disc when in fact, it is a disc herniation, which is a more serious condition. An untreated herniated disc can damage the nerve permanently. In some instances, the disc may cut off nerve impulses in the lower back and legs leading to loss of bladder or bowel control. There is also a possibility of losing sensation in the inner thigh, rectum, and back of the legs.