What it Means to Receive a Bulging Disc Diagnosis<br />right381635While receiving a bulging disc diagnosis may seem overwhelming at first, many people are eventually relieved to learn what exactly is behind their back or neck pain. Quite often, individuals spend several days or weeks trying to treat their symptoms on their own, so by the time they visit the doctor they are frustrated and potentially demoralized. So, learning that a treatable condition like a bulging disc is to blame for their symptoms can be considered good news, as there are numerous safe and effective techniques that can alleviate pain from a swollen intervertebral disc.<br />How a Bulging Disc is Diagnosed<br />When a patient visits a physician or a spine specialist and is complaining of chronic back or neck pain, the first step is typically for the doctor to complete a review of the patient’s medical history. It is important for the patient to be prepared to answer detailed questions about lifestyle, family history, daily activities, and specific symptoms. The goal of this medical review is to create a patient profile that allows the doctor to begin to determine the root cause of the patient’s pain, and this information can be integral.<br />After the medical review is completed, the next step is for the doctor to conduct a physical examination. During this part of the appointment, the doctor will assess range of motion and flexibility and attempt to locate the precise area of the spine from where the patient’s symptoms originate. This can be somewhat painful as the doctor will apply pressure to the spinal column, but it is absolutely essential to ascertain the location of the pain in order to confirm a bulging disc diagnosis.<br />Finally, a doctor will typically recommend that the patient visit a medical imagery center for one of three tests:<br />
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – A test that incorporates high powered magnets to develop an extremely detailed image of different tissues in the body. The contrast provided by an MRI make it possible to clearly see the presence of a degenerative spine condition such as a bulging intervertebral disc.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan – Provides a three dimensional image of a section of the body by taking a series of X-rays around an axis.
Traditional X-ray – An X-ray isn’t helpful for diagnosing a bulging disc, as soft tissue does not show up on an X-ray, but it can be helpful for ruling out the presence of other potential causes of pain.
What Exactly is a Bulging Disc<br />After receiving a bulging disc diagnosis, it can be reassuring to learn what exactly the condition entails. As your doctor will explain, the vertebrae in the spine are cushioned and separated by thick, spongy pads that act as shock absorbers for the spine. When healthy, these discs support a tremendous amount of body weight and also allow for the bending, twisting, flexion and extension we require in the spine.<br />Generally speaking, each disc is made up of a tough outer shell known as the annulus fibrosus and a gel-like nucleus center that is called the nucleus pulposus. Each part of the disc has its own role:<br />
Annulus fibrosus – The outer shell of the disc is extremely tough and resilient. It provides the disc with its height and shape and encapsulates the nucleus pulposus.
Nucleus pulposus – The inner disc material is composed mainly of water and protein. This gel-like material gives the disc its flexibility.
In a healthy spine, the intervertebral discs exist in the space between adjacent vertebrae. A bulging disc occurs when the annulus fibrosus becomes weakened and pressure on the disc causes the disc to extrude beyond its normal parameters. However, a bulging disc on its own isn’t necessarily symptomatic. This condition causes back or neck pain, in addition to other symptoms, when the swollen disc comes in contact with a nerve root or the spinal cord within the spinal canal. This means that someone who receives a bulging disc diagnosis is really learning they have a bulging disc that is causing a pinched or otherwise irritated nerve.<br />What Causes a Bulging Disc?<br />left3800475The next question that most people have after receiving their diagnosis is about the potential causes of a bulging disc. While many people want to be able to clearly identify the activity or activities that caused the onset of this condition, more often than not a bulging disc is caused by something that cannot be controlled: the natural aging process. As we grow older, our intervertebral discs are liable to deteriorate as a result of regular wear and tear. The combination of stress from supporting weight and strain from frequent movement causes the discs – especially in the lower back and neck – to slowly break down. This is why bulging discs typically develop around middle age and are increasingly common later in life.<br />That being said, there are a number of other risk factors that can accelerate the development of a bulging disc. For example, practicing poor posture can put additional strain on the intervertebral discs and cause them to become worn prematurely. Similarly, obesity frequently leads to degenerative disc disease because of the stress of supporting excess body fat. Additionally, any activity or job that requires repetitive bending, twisting, or stretching can have a significant impact on the spine. <br />It should also be noted that a traumatic injury can also lead to bulging discs, but injuries are more commonly associated with herniated discs than swollen discs.<br />Treatment Options<br />The good news when it comes to bulging discs is that this condition is generally regarded as highly treatable. When a patient receives a bulging disc diagnosis, the doctor will work closely with the patient to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into consideration the patient’s overall health, previously attempted treatments, current medications, age, and other variables. While specific treatments vary from patient to patient, some of the most commonly recommended noninvasive methods include the application of heat or ice, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, limited rest, low-impact exercises, and stretching. Many patients also find relief through alternative medicines, such as chiropractics, acupuncture, massage therapy and other holistic treatments.<br />Surgical Options<br />right1653540In the event that several weeks or months of conservative treatment fail to provide relief, bulging disc surgery may be considered. However, this is almost always considered the last resort for patients in debilitating pain.<br />There are a number of different procedures that may be considered depending on the cause and severity of the bulging disc. Traditionally, bulging disc surgery has been an open spine operation, wherein the intervertebral disc is removed and the adjacent vertebrae are stabilized with a bone graft or disc replacement and surgical hardware. However, recovery and rehabilitation from this type of surgery is extensive and the risk for post-operative complications can be troubling. In recent years, endoscopic spine procedures have grown in popularity, because they can be completed on an outpatient basis and are not nearly as invasive.<br />To learn what kind of treatment is right for you and for more information on your bulging disc diagnosis, speak with your doctor.<br />