Herniated, or bulging, discs are one of the most common causes of back pain, but also one of the most commonly misunderstood. Here we separate fact from fiction.
Our spinal discs are soft and elastic when we’re young, but as we age they can lose water content and become rigid and vulnerable to injury. Sometimes, the tougher outer layer can even crack or rupture, causing an inside portion of the disc to push outside its normal boundary. This is called a herniated, or bulging, disc.
Why It’s a Problem
The problem with a disc going outside of its normal boundary is that it can irritate the nearby nerves and spinal cord, resulting in pain. It’s also common for people with a herniated disc to experience neurological symptoms like numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. While the majority of herniated discs are chalked up to disc degeneration, some are caused by injury. Some people suffer from a herniated disc after using their back muscles instead of their legs to lift heavy objects, or after twisting and turning while lifting.
Doctors can diagnose a herniated disc using an MRI and other imaging techniques. Depending on the patient’s symptoms, treatment may range from conservative options like rest, lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, and pain medications to medical treatments like steroid injections, epidurals, and even surgical options. However, most people with a herniated disc will not need surgery.