Treatment Options for a Bulging Disc

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A bulging disc in the neck or lower back can be painful and disruptive. While some bulging discs resolve on their own, other patients will need treatment. This can range from over-the-counter medications and physical therapy to surgical intervention. Learn more about bulging disc treatment from Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, New Jersey’s most comprehensive spine center.

How a Bulging Disc Differs From a Herniated Disc

Intervertebral discs help the spine bend, twist, and stretch. They are located between each vertebra and are made of a ring of cartilage (the annulus fibrosus) that is filled with a jelly-like substance (the nucleus pulposus). As a person ages, it is normal for these intervertebral discs to deteriorate. The cartilage starts to break down, and the disc can dry out and shrink. A bulging disc occurs when a disc moves out of its proper position in the spinal column.

Both bulging discs and herniated discs can cause back pain, and they can both develop as a result of degenerative disc disease. But they are not the same thing, as detailed below:

  • Bulging disc: An intervertebral disc moves out of place but remains intact.
  • Herniated disc: Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, this condition develops when the annulus fibrosus of a spinal disc tears, causing the nucleus pulposus to leak.

In some cases, a weakened disc can bulge out and then rupture, turning into a herniated or slipped disc. A herniated disc also can happen when a person strains their back by lifting a heavy object or twisting with improper form. The disc material may press against a nerve root, causing numbness, tingling, or a pins-and-needles sensation.

Bulging Disc Symptoms

A bulging disc can happen at any level of the spine, but they are most common in the lower back (lumbar spine) and neck (cervical spine). Sometimes a patient will have just one bulging disc, but others can have disc degeneration at multiple levels of the spine.

When a patient has a bulging disc in the cervical spine, they may experience symptoms such as:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Pain that radiates into the arms and fingers
  • Numbness or tingling feelings
  • Muscle weakness

A bulging disc in the lumbar spine can lead to:

  • Low back pain
  • Sciatica
  • Pain that radiates into the buttocks, legs, or feet

Bulging discs can develop slowly over time, so some patients may not notice any symptoms at first.

How Is a Bulging Disc Treated?

Bulging discs often can be treated without spine surgery. After a patient has been diagnosed with a bulging disc, their provider may recommend conservative treatment options such as:

  • Rest: A short period of bed rest, as well as activity modification, can help relieve bulging disc pain.
  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce discomfort and inflammation caused by a bulging disc.
  • Physical therapy: Working with a physical therapist can help alleviate symptoms through stretching and exercises, and reduce the likelihood of future spine injuries.

If a patient needs additional treatment, they may benefit from epidural injections, which use X-ray guidance to deliver steroid medication to a nerve root. This can help resolve the inflammation and irritation that develops when a bulging disc presses on a nerve.

When disc material is putting pressure on the spinal cord or causing nerve damage, back or neck surgery may be recommended. A surgical procedure known as a discectomy or microdiscectomy can remove the damaged portion of the disc using minimally invasive techniques. This procedure is performed by a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic spine surgeon.

A Collaborative Approach to Spine Care

Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) is led by a compassionate group of experts who work in collaboration to ensure appropriate care for each patient. The medical team includes neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists. Each provider takes the time to educate patients on their diagnoses, explain the most effective treatment options, and make sure that patients understand their expected course toward wellness. CNSO philosophically takes a conservative approach to care, using evidence-based, non-invasive techniques to deliver pain relief and restore function. Surgery is recommended only after conservative options have been tried.

Find Bulging Disc Treatment in New Jersey

Patients with back pain can find relief at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics. As New Jersey’s most comprehensive spine care center, the board-certified medical team has extensive experience treating bulging discs, herniated discs, and other conditions related to degenerative disc disease. With convenient locations and providers who speak multiple languages, CNSO serves a wide range of patients throughout northern New Jersey. For more information or to request an appointment, contact CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics