A bulging disc is a condition that involves a disc bulging out of position. This happens when the disc shift from its normal radius, and is associated with aging and wear-and-tear of the spine. The spine is composed of irregular shaped bones that are separated by a cushioning disc. Each disc is filled with a soft, jelly-like substance.
When a disc bulges beyond it’s normal margin in the spine, disc bulging occurs. This is often the result of a serious injury, major fall, or degenerative bone disease. A disc bulge can occur from bending forward, sitting down, lifting, and twisting. The bulging disc does not cause nerve compression, but it can lead to inflammation of the nerves.
The symptoms of a bulging disc can mimic a disc herniation when spinal nerve inflammation occurs. These symptoms include back pain, leg burning, tingling of a leg or the buttocks. In addition, weakness and numbness of the buttocks or legs can occur. The symptoms are often exacerbated by prolonged sitting, bending forward, lifting, and moving from sitting to standing.
Most disc bulges occur in people who are 20 to 50 years of age. The most commonly affected area is the lower back, with the disc bulging occurring between the fourth and fifth vertebrae.
Several factors are associated with the development of a bulging disc. These include:
Poor core stability
Poor lifting technique
How is a disc bulge treated?
Depending on the severity and extent of the problem, treatment options include:
Physical therapy – There are many techniques used for back pain associated with a bulging disc. These include massage, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, heat/cold therapy, and exercises. This improves strength and increases flexibility.
Medications – For pain, the doctor can prescribe analgesics and muscle relaxants. Many antidepressant agents are also used in pain management, as well as topical drugs.
Spinal decompression therapy – This type of therapy is used to gently decompress the disc and lengthen the spinal column. Involving a specially designed table, distraction force is used to target the compressed disc, and a computer controls the relaxation and force. Clinical studies show that this procedure improves discogenic back pain.
Epidural steroid injection (ESI) – This procedure involves injection of a corticosteroid agent, with or without an anesthetic, into the epidural space. This space is between the epidural layer and the spinal cord. Clinical studies show that ESI has an 80-90% efficacy rate.
Facet joint injections (FJI) – This is a form of block used to alleviate pain. The doctor injections a long-acting anesthetic into the tiny facet joints along the posterior region of the spine. Based on clinical research, this procedure has an 85% success rate.
Acupuncture – Based on ancient Chinese medicine, this procedure involves insertion of tiny needles into acupoints. Practitioners propose this alleviates pain and restores energy. Controlled clinical studies show that acupuncture for chronic pain is superior to control.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – To destroy a portion of the nerve root near, the doctor uses radiofrequency energy. The treatment involves insertion of a small needle with probe into the back and near the affected nerves. A recent clinical study showed that this treatment had an 80% success rate.