Spinal discs are shock-absorbing rings of glycoprotein and fibrocartilage that separate the bony vertebral structures in the body. The outer section of the spinal disc is known as the annulus and consists of several layers of fibro-cartilaginous fibers that create a dense wall around the jelly-like nucleus filled with glycoprotein. Herniated or bulging discs occur when the annulus is injured, which irritates the nerve where it exits from the spine.
A herniated disc can cause permanent damage to your nerves if it remains untreated. It can also cause other long-term complications such as saddle anesthesia and loss of bladder or bowel control. This article looks at an in-depth view of herniated disc including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and the available treatment options.
What does a Herniated or Bulging Disc Entail?
There is a slight difference between a herniated disc and a bulging disc. For herniated discs, a crack occurs on the annulus, which is the outer layer of the disc. Although this crack may affect a small part of the disc, it causes the soft inner components of the nucleus to rupture out of the disc. On the other hand, a bulging disc bulges out of the space between your vertebrae but does not rupture. Unlike a herniated disc, a bulging disc tends to affect a larger area of the disc. While a herniated disc is likely to be more painful, it is possible to have a bulging disc but not feel pain at all. The degree of severity on your spinal disc injury may vary from mild disc strains to complete disc rupture.
Causes and Symptoms
A bulging disc or a herniated disc can occur because of a sudden increase in pressure throughout the disc that causes annulus fibers to tear. It can also be due to a pre-existing weakness in the outer layer of the disc. Other factors that may cause a slipped disc include sudden unexpected load on the intervertebral discs, genetic factors, and poor posture. Some common symptoms of bulging discs include muscle weakness, increased reflexes in either or both legs, and chronic back pain.
More severe disc pathologies include sciatica, leg pain, and altered bladder or bowel function. The pain originating from a herniated or a bulging disc may start slowly and worsen over time when performing certain activities. A bulging disc is usually considered critical when the bulge causes narrowing of your spinal canal.
Diagnosis of Herniated/Bulging Discs
A herniated or bulging disc is diagnosed based on a physical exam and complete history of the problem. You may also be required to tell your doctor about any secondary symptoms or concerns you may have experienced since the occurrence. Some of the diagnostic tests that may be done to determine the severity of your spinal disc injury include X-rays, MRIs, or CT scan.
Treatment of a Herniated or Bulging Disc
The treatment of a bulging disc may vary depending on your symptoms and medical history. Some symptoms can be managed easily with conservative treatment such as pain medications, restoration exercises, and prevention of recurrence. Patients who have a bulging disc do not necessarily have to go for surgical treatment unless their condition cannot be resolved by conservative treatment methods. Surgery is usually considered as the last treatment option and its primary goal is to decompress your spinal nerves or spinal cord by taking out the bulging disc.
Home Remedies for Herniated/Bulging Discs
Besides taking over-the-counter medications, you can use gentle heat compressors on your back to give relief and comfort. Cold packs can also be useful as they help to reduce inflammation and relieve back pains. It is also important to avoid too much bed rest as it could weaken your muscles or lead to stiff joints thus complicating your recovery. You can always rest in a comfortable position for a short duration before doing some work or going for a short walk. Health experts recommend avoiding activities that may worsen your back or neck pain during the healing process.
When to See a Doctor
It is advisable to seek medical help if you experience weakness in your limb muscles, altered or reduced sensation, spinal pain, and loss of bowel or bladder function. It is important to tell your doctor about any secondary symptoms or concerns related to your spinal disc injury.
Herniated or bulging discs can cause permanent damage to your nerves and other long-term health complications if left untreated. Seeking early medical attention prevents your condition from getting worse as it guarantees quick recovery. A combination of conservative treatment and lifestyle adjustments is the best way to avoid recurrence of herniated or bulging discs.