Discs can be thought of as cushions that protect spinal vertebrae. They are made up of a strong cartilage outer layer that protects the center’s soft cartilage. Discs are the exact size that is required to fill up the space between the vertebrae. A herniated disc occurs when the outer cartilage layer develops a crack, which causes the softer interior cartilage to jut out of the disc. Other names for herniated discs include slipped or ruptured discs.
A bulging disc, on the other hand, spreads outside of the area it should be in. The bulge is generally the outer cartilage and often affects the majority of the disk. Bulging is a part of the disc’s natural aging pattern. Bulging discs are quite common and typically painless, whereas herniated discs are often painful. However, not all cases of bulging or herniated discs cause pain.
Herniated or bulging discs that cause pain can easily be treated through various treatments such as physical therapy and exercise. One of the reasons that herniated and bulging discs can cause pain is due to the chemical in the disc’s nucleus. The chemicals can irritate the nerves and create swelling. It is also possible for the disc’s outer wall (annulus fibrosus) to break off the disc and travel into the spinal canal. Another reason for pain is due to pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.
Common Symptoms of Herniated Discs and Bulging Discs
Aside from pain, common symptoms of herniated or bulging discs include:
- Tingling (“pins and needles”)
- Muscle spasms
- Deep muscle ache
Symptoms can vary and largely depend on the herniated disc’s position. A herniated disc in the lower back can cause sciatica, which can cause leg, foot, buttock and ankle pain. A neck herniated disc can be felt in the arms, chest and shoulders.
Causes of Herniated Discs and Bulging Discs
Common causes of herniated and bulging discs include:
- Spinal Injury
- Disc disease/degeneration
Disc disease can occur when the disc’s outer layer is cracked or has little tears. It is considered a natural part of the aging process. While herniated discs can affect people of all ages, they are most commonly found between the ages of 35 and 45. They are typically found in people who have jobs that require them drive vehicles for extended periods of time or engage in tough manual labor. Spinal injury can occur from pressure or a heavy strain to the lower back.
Treatments for Herniated Discs and Bulging Discs
Treatment for herniated discs is used to alleviate symptoms and stop further injury from occurring. Typical herniated or bulging disc treatments include chiropractic manipulation, physical therapy and various medications. It can take anywhere between one to three months for patients to experience noticeable improvement. Therapists may also recommend engaging in recommended exercises in order to lessen pain and improve muscle strength.
Surgery is often not necessary for this condition. The only candidates that are suitable for surgery are patients who experience leg, arm and hand symptoms as well as severe numbness, weakness or nerve damage.