Whether we are walking, sitting, or standing, we use our backs in everything we do. That is why our backs are so susceptible to injury and so painful when, in fact, we do get hurt. There are a number of different types of back pain that can impact us in a variety of ways. Bulging discs are just one type of back injury. Although they may not cause intense pain at first, they can lead to problems that would require treatment for bulging discs.
Let’s take a look at what bulging discs are, what causes them, how to know if you may have one and what treatments for bulging discs are available.
What is a bulging disc?
As its name suggests, a bulging disc occurs when a disc in your back swells through the spine or bulges out of its normal location. This usually happens slowly, but over a period of time, you’ll begin to notice that something doesn’t feel right.
A bulging disc can eventually lead to a herniated disc where the inner part of the disc may protrude to the outer part, leading to noticeable pain. Bulging discs can also put pressure on nearby nerves leading to pain in those affected areas as well.
What causes a bulging disc?
A bulging disc can have many different causes. One of the main things to remember with bulging discs is that its impact is felt over time. It is rarely caused by an accident or trauma. Rather, a bulging disc can be associated with the following factors:
Wear and tear. Just like everything else in our body, the discs in our back can suffer from wear and tear. Over time our spinal discs lose some of their water content. This leads to them being less flexible and more prone to problems.
Bad posture. Mom always told you to sit up straight and for good reason. Sitting, standing and even sleeping the wrong way can put a strain on your neck and back, leading to a bulging disc.
Carrying or lighting a heavy object. If you are lifting a heavy object and put all of the weight in your back, you may put yourself at risk for a bulging disk.
Wearing shoes with no support. When you wear shoes that have no orthopedic support, you put yourself at risk of injuring your back and developing a bulging disc.
In addition, being overweight can put an added strain on your back, leading to a bulging disc.
What are the symptoms of a bulging disc?
The symptoms of a bulging disc go much further than simply having a backache. Chances are you’ve had a bulging disc for quite some time but only begin to notice when it affects other parts of your body. Some of the symptoms include:
- Pain or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms or fingers
- Pain in the upper back that radiates to the chest or stomach
- Muscle spasms
Other symptoms include a shooting pain down only one side of the leg which can affect the sciatic nerve. In extreme cases, a bulging disc can affect bladder or bowel function and may lead to paralysis from the waist down. If you are experiencing any of those symptoms you need to get emergency medical treatment.
If you notice the other symptoms over a period of time, call your doctor for an appointment. During your visit, he or she will review your medical history as well as perform a physical exam. Your reflexes will be tested as well as how well you can move and stretch. The doctor will also press on your spine to see if there is any tenderness.
Imaging tests such as a CT scan or MRI may also be ordered to confirm a bulging disc diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, it’s time to begin treatment for bulging discs.
Treatment for bulging discs
Pain management is a big part of treatment for bulging discs. Depending on the severity of the pain, treatment can include:
Anti-inflammatory medicines. These can be over-the-counter or by prescription, depending on the pain level.
Heat therapy. This can reduce muscle strain if muscles are affected. If it is a case of inflammation only, then cold therapy is the better course of treatment.
Lifestyle changes. If you are overweight you may want to consider losing weight to ease the pressure on your back. You’ll also want to be sure to have good posture to prevent any further injury.
Physical therapy and chiropractic care. Exercises to strengthen the muscles in the back can help to also regain mobility and ease the pain caused by a bulging disc. You want to see a professional to learn which exercises are best so that you don’t further injure yourself.
One of the good things about bulging discs is that they can improve through lifestyle changes and physical therapy and rarely require surgery.