There are different forms of treatment for a bulging disc, both surgical and nonsurgical. As the majority of cases don’t need surgery, it’s important to be aware of the different nonsurgical treatment options available, from exercise and physical therapy to chiropractic care.
A bulging disc occurs when it changes shape and bulges outwards into the space within the spinal canal. Without their own vascular supply, it’s difficult to reverse disc damage once it has occurred; treatment can work towards improving disc function and preventing further deterioration.
Before moving on to the main topic of treatment for bulging discs, let’s briefly discuss the structure and role of the intervertebral discs.
The spine’s intervertebral discs sit between adjacent vertebrae (bones of the spine) to provide cushioning, so the vertebrae don’t rub up against one another, creating friction during movement and causing deterioration over time.
The intervertebral discs have two main parts: a soft inner gel-like nucleus fibrosus and a tough, durable outer layer called the annulus pulposus.
The soft inner nucleus is made up of water, collagen, and proteoglycans (PGs). PGs are important because they retain and attract water.
While the outer annulus also contains water, collagen, and PGs, they are more concentrated in the inner nucleus to help it resist compression.
When we are born, our spinal discs are made up of 80-percent water, but as we age and make various lifestyle choices, that level changes. Lifestyle choices that can affect the health of the spine, and its discs, include leading a sedentary lifestyle, carrying excess weight, chronic poor posture, and repeatedly lifting heavy objects incorrectly.
As mentioned, the discs don’t have their own vascular supply; instead, they absorb important nutrients for cellular repair and rejuvenation through their end plates.
A disc that is overly dehydrated is called desiccation, and when this happens, the disc can lose height, which affects the positioning of adjacent vertebrae that are attached to it.
Disc desiccation can lead to the development of degenerative disc disease and injury, such as a bulging disc.
Unlike a herniated disc, where the inner nucleus actually pushes through a tear in the outer annulus, a bulging disc happens when the entire disc changes shape and protrudes outward, into the spinal canal, but the annulus is still intact, and the nucleus remains inside the annulus.
As the disc is invading the space within the spinal canal, it can compress a nerve and cause a variety of issues felt throughout the body.
How serious a bulging disc is will depend on the degree of nerve involvement, location and severity of the bulging disc, not to mention other important variables such as patient age and overall health.
Common causes of a bulging disc are degenerative disc disease, poor lifestyle habits such as repeatedly lifting heavy objects with the back muscles, rather than the leg muscles, chronic poor posture, and carrying excess weight.
If a bulging disc is left untreated and worsens, it can easily become a herniated disc, so part of the focus of treatment for a bulging disc is to prevent it from becoming herniated.
So once a person is diagnosed with a bulging disc, what bulging disc treatment options are there?
There are different forms of treatment for a bulging disc, both surgical and nonsurgical.
Just as any surgical procedure carries its share of risks, spinal surgery is no exception and can be invasive, costly, and in the majority of cases, nonsurgical treatment is effective.
Here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, I have treated a wide range of spinal conditions, including bulging discs, and as a chiropractor, I know the spine and how different conditions affect it.
Regardless of the condition, treatment involves assessing and treating the entire spine, and not just the section with the bulging disc.
Part of an effective treatment involves customizing treatment plans to address important patient/condition characteristics, including how long a patient has been experiencing symptoms, their level of pain, the nature of other symptoms, and patient age.
For some, symptoms will decrease over time, but for others, a bulging disc can become herniated: something we want to avoid.
There are a number of nonsurgical treatments for a bulging disc, and here at the Center, nonsurgical treatments are my specialty as I feel less-invasive treatment options excel at preserving the overall health and function of the spine.
The primary goals of bulging disc treatment are to provide pain management, particularly radicular pain that can range from mild and intermittent to chronic and debilitating; another focus is preventing disc herniation and helping patients return to a normal activity level.
My conservative chiropractic-centered treatment approach integrates different facets of treatment to impact the condition on multiple levels: medication (when needed), physical therapy, and chiropractic care.
One of the cornerstones of my treatment approach is to be proactive by treating the actual condition, and not just its symptoms, which is why I opt for an integrative approach that combines medication, when necessary, but focuses on powerful forms of treatment that can address the underlying cause of related symptoms.
For patients in need of medication for pain management, this commonly includes anti-inflammatory drugs, and in some cases, a muscle relaxant prescription can address related muscle spasms.
For longer-term pain management, steroid injections can help reduce inflammation at precise locations for longer-term pain management, particularly when guided by ultrasound.
No exercise should ever be attempted as a form of treatment without first consulting a medical professional, and in addition, exercises and stretches have to be condition- and patient-specific to be effective.
Through condition-specific exercises and stretches, physical therapy can be a highly effective form of bulging disc treatment through condition-specific exercises and stretches by minimizing pain and relieving pressure on affected nerves.
Exercise is a key aspect of proactive treatment for many spinal conditions and issues because the very design of the spine is based on movement. As mentioned, with the discs not having their own vascular supply, increasing muscle strength and circulation through movement can improve the health of the discs by making nutrients more accessible around the discs, which they can absorb through a process of osmosis.
When it comes to chiropractic care, there are a number of techniques that are an effective treatment for a bulging disc.
Different forms of spinal manipulation can be effective at reducing back pain and working towards repositioning certain vertebrae that are misaligned, due to the change in a disc’s shape.
When necessary, corrective bracing can also be effective at reducing pain and helping provide the spine with optimal support and stabilization.
Spinal decompression therapy, a form of intermittent spinal traction, can also help reduce symptoms of a bulging disc and provide pain relief for longer periods of time. Traction tables can help stretch and open spinal joints to take pressure off the affected disc, which helps the bulge return to its central position between adjacent vertebrae.
Through precise and focused chiropractic adjustments, I can apply low-force techniques that can manipulate the spine at and around the affected disc, improving spinal alignment and working towards improving overall spinal biomechanics.
The spine is an important part of human anatomy. Not only does it allow us to stand upright and engage in flexible movement, it helps to protect the brain and important organs, and works in tandem with the brain to form the body’s central nervous system (CNS).
When a disc bulges, this means it has changed shape and is protruding outwards into the spinal canal, which houses the spinal nerves that are in charge of facilitating communication between the brain and the rest of the body.
If a bulging disc is pressing against a spinal nerve, it can produce a wide range of symptoms, including generalized back pain, or radicular pain that can be felt far from its site of origin, such as in the arms, legs, and feet.
While there are different forms of treatment for a bulging disc, here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, I offer patients a conservative and chiropractic-centered treatment approach that uses multiple forms of proactive treatment to not only address the condition’s symptoms, but also their underlying cause.
Through the use of medication, when necessary, condition-specific physical therapy, and chiropractic care, I work towards reducing pain, improving the health and function of the discs by improving muscle strength and circulation, and using different chiropractic techniques to adjust the spine.
By combining multiple effective forms of treatment, I work closely with patients to relieve pressure on affected nerves, return the bulging disc to its central position between adjacent vertebrae, and improve overall spinal alignment and biomechanics.