What is a Bulging Disc?
As the name suggests, a bulging disc is when the inner disc material (nucleus pulposus) pushes out against the outer layer (annulus fibrosis), creating a ‘bulge’ on the exterior of the disc surface. The discs in the spine act like shock absorbers between the bones, which are called vertebrae.
The discs consist of a very tough outer layer of cartilage with a soft jelly-like fluid in the middle. A great analogy for a spinal disc is to think of it like a jam donut. They have a tougher outer layer of bread and a thinner jam-like fluid in the middle.
When excessive outside forces or stress is put on the disc itself, the inner jam-like fluid can protrude into the tougher outer layer forcing the disc to ‘bulge’ outward. This is unlike a herniated disc, where the inner jelly-like fluid actually punctures right through that tougher outer layer. As the discs themselves are so close to the spinal nerve roots, the protruding disc bulge can directly impact on either the nerve exiting the spine, or the spinal cord itself. When this nerve irritation occurs, significant pain and dysfunction can certainly often result. Bulging discs most commonly occur in the lower back but can also occur in the neck and thoracic spine.
What causes a bulging disc?
Another way to ask this same question is what causes the tougher outer layer of the disc to weaken and give way? The answer is repetitive minor physical stresses on the disc over a longer period of time. Repetitive bending or flexing of the lower back, lifting, and sitting can all weaken the outer layer of the disc, increasing the risk of disc material protruding from the centre.
Posture, specifically sitting in a slouched position, is one of the major causes of bulging discs. Our Sacred Health chiropractors find that spinal dysfunction sustained over time greatly increases the chance of disc injuries. If the joints of the spine and pelvis are fixated creating misalignment and dysfunction, then the disc themselves are more susceptible to degeneration and disc bulging.
Although there might be one incident that initiates your significant disc pain, the structural changes as mentioned above have likely been occurring over time. Commonly people report to our Sacred Health chiropractors that, “I bent down to pick something up and my back went out”. Even though this was the incident that brought on the pain, it was more likely that bending down was ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. More specifically it was the slow weakening of the disc over time and not this one incident that caused the disc to bulge.
What does a bulging disc feel like?
Symptoms of a bulging disc can vary depending on the location and the amount of nerve irritation that has occurred. It can range from minor pain if the disc is the only tissue injured, to severe and unrelenting neck pain or lower back pain.
Pain can also radiate from the irritated nerves into the regions that the nerve supplies. For the lower back, these radiations can potentially be felt in the hips, thighs, knees, legs or feet. Commonly radiating pain is felt down the back of the legs and is referred as, sciatica. Other symptoms may include numbness, tingling and muscular weakness.
Unlike pain that comes and goes, which can be caused by spinal and pelvic joint dysfunction or muscle spasm, pain from a bulging disc is usually continuous or severely aggravated by certain positions.
How can Sacred Health Family Chiropractic help with bulging discs?
Chiropractic care has consistently been shown to be effective in reducing the pain and disability of disc injuries in the short and long term, by addressing the overall biomechanical function of the spine and pelvis.
The chiropractors at Sacred Health Family Chiropractic can initially help by providing a thorough spinal examination to determine the cause and possible type of disc injury during Your Initial Consultation. Once the cause and possible disc problem is determined, our chiropractor’s will sit down and explain your findings to you, so that you have a clear understanding of your results in Your Report of Findings.
Our chiropractor’s will recommend a course of care if appropriate and outline their expectations before beginning any treatment. Sacred Health Family Chiropractic prides itself on providing safe professional non-invasive treatment for disc related pain relief and overall wellness.
As well as our work in the clinic, our chiropractors may also provide advice, stretches or exercises that may speed up your recovery and reduce the chance of future relapses.