Do You Have a Bulging Disc?

A Neurosurgeon Shares Top Signs It’s Time to Seek Care

The spine bears a big responsibility- a price we pay for being able to stand on two legs. So, it’s no wonder wear and tear will occur over one’s lifespan. Bulging and herniated discs are common among the general population—each decade we typically acquire changes in our discs. The vast majority of these changes are simply part of living and of no consequence.

Rarely, a disc herniation will result in debilitating pain  and people may wonder, “Will I need surgery?” It’s an unsettling proposition to consider. Major back surgery requires weeks of recovery with extreme limitations.

At New Jersey Brain & Spine, we always consider major surgery to be the last resort. Instead, we turn to viable, non-surgical treatments to get our patients back to living their best life.

What Is a Bulging Disc vs. Herniated Disc?

Bulging discs and herniated discs are often referred to interchangeably, but there are differences between the two. Spinal discs provide cushion between the spine’s vertebrae. Over time, discs can expand out—thus causing the “bulge.” Mayo Clinic describes this as a “hamburger that’s too big for its bun.” Bulging discs are best thought of as “part of living”. In contrast, herniated discs occur when the annulus, or the tough rim of connective tissue that typically constrains the disc, fractures, allowing softer nucleus pulposus to protrude out.

When the disc material puts pressure on the adjacent nerve, it can become incredibly painful. Typical symptoms include:

  • Back pain (from a lumbar disc)
  • Neck Pain (from a cervical disc)
  • Pain in the leg or arm
  • Muscle spasm near the spine
  • Numbness or tingling of the leg or arm
  • Weakness of the leg or arm

If any of these symptoms are preventing you from your normal daily activities, it’s time to seek help from a trusted neurosurgeon. They can advise the appropriate diagnostic test.

Treatment Options for Bulging Disc or Herniated Disc

The good news is, herniated discs respond well to conservative treatments. Anti-inflammatory medications (Aleve, Motrin, Advil) often resolve the issue within a few days to a few weeks. Physical therapy is another option to help patients understand how to minimize their pain. Another option is a cortisone shot into the space around the nerve (epidural) to relieve the inflammation around the nerve.

Should symptoms worsen—such as weakness or losing control of bladder/bowel function—a neurosurgeon should help determine next steps. For example, minimally invasive procedures such as discectomy provide patients relief without the concerns of major spinal surgery.

Patient-First Care from Experts You Trust

No matter the intensity of spinal discomfort you’re going through, our team is standing by to help. We are dedicated to a patient-first approach to care, and we address every patient based on their unique circumstances and needs.

If you’re living with pain, or you know someone who is, please contact us for a consultation. There’s no need to continue to put your life on hold.