Discs are pads of cartilage between the vertebrae that absorb the pressure and body weight of the spinal column. Their jelly-like nucleus is surrounded by tough fibrous covering (annulus fibers), making it an ideal cushion. Aging and normal wear and tear, poor posture, and abuse can allow the annulus fiber to weaken and/or the nucleus to bulge putting pressure on sensitive nerves.
A disc bulge (or protrusion) is a word commonly used to describe a slight out pouching of the disc. The words ‘disc bulge’ imply that the disc appeared asymmetric with a small amount of out pouching, and no significant herniation.
Discs can also herniate or rupture, where the jelly-like nucleus can protrude or “leak-out” (less common), pressing on the nerves, irritating sensitive structures and causing pain.
In the lower back, the most common symptom of a herniated disc is pain shooting to the legs, this is known as sciatica.
Causes of Disc Bulges/Herniation
- Car Accidents
- Heavy lifting-over exertion/work related injury
- Sometimes a sudden twisting movement or even a sneeze
- Activities that are done over and over again that may stress the lower back
- Poor lifting habits,
- Prolonged exposure to vibration, sitting
- Repeated Microtrauma
- Poor posture
- Sports-related injuries
- Degenerative discs
Bulging disc symptoms can vary widely from person to person. The main factors determining the symptoms of a bulging disc are the location of the disc and the severity of the damage. The location of the pain depends on which disc is weakened, while the level of pain depends on how much of the disc is pressing on the nerve.
The symptoms of a bulging disc, also sometimes called a ruptured disc, begin when the bulge puts pressure on nerve roots, which are initial segments of nerves that branch off from the spinal cord. Bulging disc symptoms will begin at the point of pressure and radiate to where the affected nerve root travels. For example:
- A bulging disc in the neck can cause pain, tingling, and numbness that branch out to the shoulders, arms, chest, hands, and fingers.
- In the thoracic area of the spine, a bulging disc may cause pain to radiate anywhere from the chest to the upper thigh.
- When located in the lumbar spine, a bulging disc can cause pain to travel from the lower back to the buttocks, legs, and feet. A bulging disc located in the lower back also might lead to the development of sciatica.