Do You Have Bulging Disc Lower Back Pain? What Are Your Bulging Disc Treatment Options.

 

 

 

Bulging Discs And Lower Back Pain

 

Although it sounds like a serious problem, bulging disc lower back pains are usually not severe, and bulging disc treatment options are often very effective at resolving any back pain that you might be suffering with.

Like all disc problems though, it can be very hard to determine exactly what is causing back pain, and often the differing terms (disc bulge, herniation, degeneration) are used interchangeably. In particular, a disc bulge is often confused with a disc herniation, but they are actually different things. We will be covering this in more detail as you read through. 

Another thing that might be somewhat of a surprise is how common bulging discs are, even if you are not experiencing any symptoms. A study that was published in the highly regarded New England Medical Journal in July 1994 by M.C. Jensen titled ‘ Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People without Back Pain.’ examined scans of people who had no symptoms of back pain.

They found that 52% had disc bulges! That is, over half of  people with no back pain had a bulging spinal disc! And this number increases with age.

 

128805-532318-30A bulging disc occurs when the discs inner material, the nucleus pulposus, starts to squeeze out into the outer ring of the disc (annulus fibrosis). This can cause the disc to swell and bulge. It is thought to be a natural part of the ageing process, like Degenerative Disc Disease. This process will happen quicker if their has been an injury to the disc through trauma, or long term spinal stress and strain as a result of things like poor posture and prolonged sitting. Smoking is also known to speed up disc problems.

It is worth mentioning that discs do bulge very slightly when we are standing as they absorb our body weight.

A bulging disc is not necessarily a sign that anything serious is happening to your spine, and they often do not cause any pain.

But, if the bulge is large enough it can press into the spinal canal. This can directly irritate the spinal nerves, resulting in pain. If there is any calcification or spurs (also known as osteophytes) in the area the problem can become much worse.

The easiest way to think of a bulge is as a generalised swelling of the disc. A herniation is different, and occurs when the gel like nucleus pulposus actually squeezes through cracks in the fibres of the annulus fibrosis and pushes out into the spinal canal. The gel like nucleus can even squirt out into the area behind the disc, and this can result in severe pain and neurological problems if it compresses the nerves.

The best way to diagnose a bulging disc is with an MRI. Because the discs are soft tissue, they can not be seen effectively on an X-ray.

 

 

This MRI shows a disc bulge at the L4-L5 spinal level. In the centre of the picture you will see the vertebra of the spinal column like a stack of blocks. The lighter coloured pancakes in between are the discs.

You will notice that one of the discs is darker in colour, and is bulging to the right, into the spinal canal where the spinal nerves are. This is a disc bulge. The darker colour of the disc is generally indicative of dehydration of the disc, a result of Degenerative Disc Disease. Bulging discs and degenerative change usually go hand in hand.

 

Symptoms of Bulging Disc Lower Back Pain

Like Degenerative Disc Disease, the symptoms of a bulging disc vary. As mentioned above, 52% of people with no back pain at all have a disc bulge. Some people may only experience occasional back ache in the mid-line. 

However, if the bulge is large enough to irritate a spinal nerve you can experience severe back pain on one side that may even extend into your buttocks or down your leg. You may even have some numbness or tingling, or muscle weakness. (Although the more severe signs are usually due to a disc herniation.)

 

Bulging Disc Treatment Options.

In severe cases where the disc bulge is compressing nerves, spinal surgery may be an option. A Laminectomy (removing the posterior, bony portion of the vertebra) or a Discectomy (removing the disc) can be performed to take the pressure off the nerves. However, all surgery is risky, and should only be performed in exceptional cases where all other options have been exhausted.

As per the treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease, there are several other, more conservative options.

Medications such as pain killers and anti-inflammatories can relieve the pain, but do not fix the underlying problem.

Chiropractic manipulation can increase spinal range of motion, relieve nerve pressure, restore blood flow and reduce muscle tension. It is low risk and has a very good success rate.

Ultrasound and massage can help to restore blood flow and reduce muscle tension.

A specific exercise program designed to progressively stabilise the spine and increase flexibility, such as the Total Back Pain Solution, is often the only way to achieve long-term healing for most sufferers of a bulging spinal disc.

Hot and cold therapy, losing weight and quitting smoking are all known to be beneficial as well.

Once you understand that spinal problems like a disc bulge, or facet joint pain are all the end result of an underlying spinal instability, it becomes obvious that it is ultimately up to ourselves to protect our spine by looking after it correctly. Only by doing this and making a little effort can we look forward to a life that is not limited by whether by the level of our back pain.

 

                               Next Page: What Does Herniated Disc Lower Back Pain Feel Like?

 

If you have any questions, or would like to share your own experience, please leave us a comment below.

Also, if you have found this article helpful, please share it so we can help even more people! Thankyou.

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Dr Brad

    Did not know of the prevalance of bulging discs. 52{95f364b8aea3ba4afb976a81c1dcc2e8147daac1866ef443968911255633a999}!! I guess people are not aware of how commom this problem is. Well done on bringing focus to this issue. I lead an active life and I will certainly take more precautions with my back and spine. Can bulging disc cause sciatica? Do you recommend regular MRI’s even if there is no back pain?

  2. Hi Brad,
    I have 5 bulging discs in my lumbar region with S1 being the worst. I have a cyst inside the spinal canal that I am concerned about. I knew I had scoliosis in that region but never had pain before. I had a vaginal hysterectomy last April 2017 & 3 months following this, the pain began. I feel that the bulging discs happened because of the way this operation was done. I have lower back pain that radiates to the side & sometimes down my leg. This occurs after walking, carrying shopping etc. I was told by my Doctor that they can do nothing for me. I have had 1 six week session of physio & another for September.

    My questionn is, do you think nothing can be done to help me?

    • Hi Christine,

      Sorry to hear of the trouble you are having. Even with multiple disc bulges, you can still improve the structural integrity of your spine. As the stability, strength and flexibility improve, most people find their pain levels substantially decrease. This of course can take from several weeks to many months, depending on the severity of the condition, how long it has been there, and other factors such as surgery. A specific exercise program is what it will usually take to restore spinal integrity.

      The other factor is whether you have other problems in your spinal (such as a misalignment in your neck for example) that could be creating nerve tension, amplifying the irritation in your lower back. This is extremely common, and an approach that focuses solely on the area of pain (lower back) will not work.

      Unfortunately it is not an easy cut and dry problem. You could check out our Total Back Pain online program that guides you through a series of gentle exercises to improve your spinal function (here: https://healthyspines.org/tbps ). Otherwise I would suggest maybe consulting a chiropractor. They will usually examine you from a more holistic perspective and check your whole spine for problems, not just the site of pain.

      Kind regards Christine, I wish you all the best.

      Dr Brad

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