Bulging Disc Symptoms

A Guide to Bulging Disc Symptoms and Treatments

Bulging disc symptoms can easily be mistaken for other back issues, particularly since the most prominent symptom is straight-up back pain. Bulging disc is a term that seems to be largely interchangeable with other names, such as “herniated disc” and “pinched nerve,” although doctors have yet to clarify if there is any true difference between the three conditions. A bulging disc can essentially be described as a vertebral disc within the spine that has somehow become damaged and now pushes against other areas within the back, resulting in pain and discomfort.

Are all bulging disc conditions the same?

Oddly enough, there are actually four different types of bulging disc conditions. They are largely based on the amount of damage that the disc has sustained. These types are known as bulging, prolapsed, extruded, and sequestered. The symptoms that one would experience with a bulging disc depend on what “damage stage” the disc is in and how long it has been in such a state.

What are some bulging disc symptoms?

As mentioned earlier, bulging disc symptoms can vary depending on how badly damaged the vertebral disc is. A typical bulging disc occurs as one of the discs within the spine starts to weaken. At this point, the disc may simply harbor a small bulge near its outer portion. In most cases this mild form of bulging disc produces very few noticeable symptoms—or none at all.  If the bulging disc is not corrected, it can progress to the prolapsed stage, which is basically when the bulge becomes a bit larger, but still manages to be contained within the vertebral wall. This is usually when a person begins to notice the formation of symptoms. Again, the most noticeable symptom is pain in the generalized area, typically the lower back. This pain occurs in two fashions: mechanical and compressive.

Mechanical pain is that which occurs as a result of inflammation around the disc. Inflammation causes the area to swell a bit due to increased blood flow to the site and can make the disc and nearby joints stiff. This stiffness is typically found in the lower back and can spread to the buttocks, however it very rarely reaches one’s knees.

Compressive pain is that which occurs as a result of nearby nerves sustaining too much pressure from the bulging disc. Compressive pain can be extremely bothersome because the lower back hosts a series of nerves that, if constricted, can lead to varying forms of discomfort. For instance, the lower back is home to the sciatic nerve, which controls muscle function down the legs. Pressure against this nerve can result in pain and even tingling or numbness that extends down the buttocks, hips, leg, and down towards one’s feet. Numbness is a tell tale sign that the bulging disc is affecting nearby nerves.

The next type of bulging disc is the extruded phase. At this point the disc will actually tear through the wall-like area of the vertebrae. This produces significant pain, weakness to the localized area as well as the legs, or numbness. The final stage is a sequestered disc. The bulging disc symptoms associated with this stage are not what you might expect. In fact, one might find that the symptoms lessen dramatically or go away altogether. This is because the disc has managed to slip out completely and is not drifting around the canal that houses the spine.

Is there a way to treat bulging disc symptoms?

In most cases, the treatment methods for bulging disc are conservative, meaning that they are not likely to be invasive. Surgery may be an option for some specialized circumstances; however it is usually at the bottom at a doctor’s list of treatment options. The most likely treatments a doctor will recommend are physical therapy, heat and ice therapy, or injections of anti-inflammatory medications. One should speak to their doctor about the benefits and drawbacks of each treatment type to decide which method would best suit their specific circumstance.