What Is a Bulging Disc?
Learn about the symptoms and treatment options for a bulging disc.
Bulging discs occur when the outer shell becomes weaker, allowing the disc to bulge to one side of the spinal canal, or flatten. You may experience this after an injury to the spinal disc.
What You May Be Feeling
Lower Back Pain
Leg, or Arm and Hand, Numbness
Leg, or Arm and Hand, Weakness
Symptoms of a Bulging Disc
A bulging disc can cause symptoms like pain in your neck, shoulder, arm or chest, leading to numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms or fingers. A bulging disc can cause sciatic pain, which is a kind of pain that shoots down your lower back, buttocks, legs and feet.
Pain and other symptoms arise from the bulging disc rubbing against one or more of the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. Because the disc may bulge to the left or right, you may feel symptoms in one side or both.
Potential Thinning Disc Treatment Options
A laminectomy is a very common procedure that removes a portion of what is known as the lamina (which is the back part of the vertebra that covers the spinal canal) in order to create space in the area affected by the bulging disc.
A laminotomy is a spinal decompression surgery where only a very small portion of the lamina is removed to access a disc herniation and take pressure off the nerves and spinal cord for pain relief.
When the disc compresses the spinal cord or nerve root, replacement can be an option. The disc is replaced with an artificial disc to preserve motion at the disc space.
Anterior Cervical Disc Fusion (ACDF)
During an ACDF, the damaged disc in the neck is removed, relieving pain and pressure. Then a reinforced implant takes its place, providing the repair.
During a lumbar fusion the damaged disc is removed from the lower back (lumbar spine), and the two vertebrae are fused together with a reinforced implant to create support.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
Also known as an RFA, this procedure uses high-energy radio frequency to ablate (or remove/vaporize) the troubled nerve, essentially eliminating the sensation of pain.
Things You Can Do at Home to Relieve Symptoms
- Use an ice pack on the part of your back where the disc is – 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off
- Use a heating pad on the back to lessen stiffness – it’s okay to alternate between heat and ice
- Take short walks several times a day to loosen your back
- Try stretching exercises to strengthen your back muscles
- Try over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen