Managing Symptoms from a Bulging Disc in Your BackPresentation Transcript
Managing Symptoms from a Bulging Disc in Your Back
Managing Symptoms from a Bulging Disc in Your Back A bulging disc in the back can actually be purely asymptomatic by itself, even though you often hear of people complaining of pain due to this condition. The reality is that bulging disc pain will most often arise only when the bulged disc compresses a nearby spinal nerve root or the spinal cord itself. This common misconception about the true cause of bulging disc pain illustrates just how important it is to fully educate yourself on every aspect of this condition if you think it might be the culprit behind your chronic back pain – including its causes, symptoms, how to diagnose it, how to treat it, and more.
What is a Disc? Throughout the spine, individual vertebrae are separated and cushioned by thick, spongy bodies known as intervertebral discs. These discs have two main components: Nucleus pulposus – the gel-like inner material of the disc that gives it flexibility and helps allow for motion Annulus fibrosus – the tough, outer wall of the disc that helps contain the nucleus pulposus and helps the disc maintain its shape The discs serve as shock absorbers between the vertebrae and help give the spine the ability to move, flex, twist, rotate, etc. – in short, all the movements we require from our body on a daily basis.
What Causes a Bulging Disc in the Back? Over time, all this movement can take its toll on the spine. Years of use and normal wear and tear gradually cause the different anatomical components in the spine – bones, discs, ligaments, joints, etc. – to degenerate. This age-related deterioration can result in a number of degenerative spine conditions, one of which is a bulging disc. While natural degeneration over time is the primary cause behind a bulging disc in the back, there are a number of other, less common causes, including traumatic injury (such as a car accident), high-impact activities (such as playing hockey or football), or repetitive motions (such as lifting heavy loads every day at work). However, unlike herniated discs (when the disc actually ruptures and inner disc material seeps out) which can come about due to a single moment of trauma, bulging discs most often develop gradually over time.
Diagnosing a Bulging Disc If you feel your chronic back pain may be attributed to a bulging disc and you decide to visit your doctor to find out for sure, it’s likely that the diagnostic process will proceed as follows: Medical history – your doctor will typically take you through a question-and-answer session about your symptoms, such as when they are better/worse, when they started, and how severe they are, as well as discussions about your family history, lifestyle, occupation, etc. in order to gain pertinent clues about what might be causing your pain. Palpation – your doctor will then likely manually palpate your spine in order to feel for abnormalities, tender areas, or other issues that might help the diagnostic process. This palpation might cause minor discomfort, but it is essential to determining the root cause of your symptoms. Medical imagery – your doctor may send you to an imagery center for an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI that can help give a much clearer picture of your spine, as well as help pinpoint any problems that may be causing symptoms, such as a bulging disc.
What are the Symptoms of a Bulging Disc? As mentioned earlier, a bulging disc on its own is often asymptomatic. In fact, it’s entirely likely that you have a bulging disc in your back (or even more than one) that isn’t causing you any issues. It’s only when a disc bulges beyond its normal boundary and places pressure on a nearby nerve or the spinal cord itself that symptoms will arise. These symptoms can vary from one individual to the next due to a variety of factors, including age, location of the compression, and more. Furthermore, the symptoms of a bulging disc can actually be experienced in a part of the body that is located far away from where the bulging disc is actually situated. That’s because the complex system of nerves in the spinal canal branches off to every part of the body, and symptoms of a pinched nerve in the spine can be felt in a remote location that the nerve innervates, rather than at the site of compression itself.
What are the Symptoms of a Bulging Disc? For example, a bulging disc in the cervical (upper) region of the spine can cause symptoms to appear in the head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers, while a bulging disc in the thoracic (middle) spine can cause problems in the torso, chest, and internal organs. Finally, a bulging disc in the lumbar (lower) spine can cause pain and other symptoms in the lower back, hips, buttocks, thighs, lower legs, and feet. All told, it can be difficult to treat a bulging disc, because these far-ranging symptoms can make it tough to pinpoint exactly what is causing the discomfort. In fact, you may spend weeks treating symptoms in an area of the body innervated by the affected nerve, while altogether missing the true cause of the symptoms themselves – the bulging disc.
Treating a Bulging Disc So you’ve reached a diagnosis of a bulging disc in the back and know why your chronic pain is occurring. That’s great, but the next – and most important – question is, how do you treat it? Typically, treatment for a bulging disc will begin conservatively with one or more of a variety of nonsurgical methods. The good news is that many patients are able to find an acceptable level of pain relief through these methods and never have to resort to more targeted treatment, such as surgery.
Treating a Bulging Disc Some of the most common conservative treatments for a bulging disc include: Hot/cold therapy – alternating heat and ice packs can help dull and soothe pain, increase blood flow, and improve flexibility in the affected area Physical therapy – a licensed professional can take you through guided exercises to improve flexibility, strength, and support in the area of the spine affected by a bulging disc, all of which can help ease symptoms Medication – over-the-counter or prescription pain killers, anti-inflammatories, and/or muscle relaxers can all be effective ways to manage the symptoms of a bulging disc Behavior modification – eating right and losing weight can help limit undue stress on the spine and improve overall health, both of which can help patients deal with symptoms. Cutting out alcohol and tobacco consumption has also been shown to help prevent symptoms from worsening. Furthermore, many patients report finding relief through the use of alternative treatments. Although the medical community at large has yet to reach a consensus on the efficacy of alternative treatments, many patients swear by them. Common choices include chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, massage, and others.
Surgical Options In the event that weeks or months of conservative, nonsurgical, and/or alternative treatments fail to provide relief from a bulging disc in the back, the last resort is often elective surgery. In the past, the only surgical option was open spine surgery, which involved a large incision, the removal of spinal anatomy, the insertion of a bone graft and/or hardware, and a lengthy, arduous recovery. However, recent years have seen the development and perfection of endoscopic procedures, which are minimally invasive alternatives to open spine procedures. These safe, effective surgeries require a smaller incision, no cutting of muscle tissue, a decreased risk of infection and other complications, and a much shorter recuperation period. To learn more about a bulging disc in the back, its causes, symptoms, and treatments, speak with your doctor or a spine specialist today.