You recently had a medical exam, and the physician explained that the neck pain radiating to your arms results from a bulging disc. While you are relieved to know the underlying problem, you have unanswered questions like, what is a bulging disc?

A bulging disc appears when the spongy discs separating bones in your spine are compressed and bulge out around their circumference. The spongy discs have tough outer layers and gel in the middle. With age, abnormal pressure on the discs causes the bulge. The bulged discs can compress nerve roots and trigger arm and or leg pain.

Though the condition affects people of all ages, the risk of development increases as people age. Aside from this, it’s common in people who carry out strenuous physical activity for long periods.

Let’s look at what causes back pain, a chiropractic fix, and how long it takes to fix it.

Bulging disc versus herniated disc: What’s the difference?

bulging disc

The spongy discs have a soft, gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus surrounded by a tough elastic band called the annulus fibrosus. Think of them as shock absorbers. In a bulging disc, the nucleus penetrates the annulus causing a protrusion, but the outer annulus layer remains intact.

However, in a herniated disc, the outer layer of the annulus tears, releasing the soft, jelly-like center into the spinal cord, foramen, and the disc sides. Since there’s limited space in the spinal cord, the nucleus compresses nearby bundle of nerves resulting in pain.

To understand the difference better, think of the Spinal discs as a jelly doughnut. In a bulging disc, the jelly donut is flattened, but the jelly is intact inside. But in a herniated disc, the pressure exerted ruptures the donut, and the outer layer is no longer intact.

The difference in the extent of nerve irritation results in a difference in symptoms.

Though both conditions result in leg and back pain, numbness, tingling, and loss of range of motion, the symptoms are common and worse with disc herniation. Because the nucleus is better contained in a bulging disc, there are fewer chances of nerve compression and irritation.

Note: Not everyone experiences pain with bulged or herniated discs. When comparing the two, bulging discs are less likely to cause lumbar spine pain than herniated discs.

What causes bulging discs?

The most common cause of bulging discs is natural aging which causes the disc material to degenerate. Aside from this, other risk factors that leave lumbar spinal discs vulnerable to bulging include:

  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle and smoking
  • Exerting continuous pressure and minor strain on the spine with improper lifting of a heavy object, or as a result of injury. Certain positions can quicken the wear and tear.
  • Weakened back muscles leave the spongy disc vulnerable to compression over time
  • Poor posture, including bad body positioning when sitting, sleeping, exercising, and standing.
  • Obesity (excess weight)
  • High contact activities or sports
  • Not using running shoes with orthopedic support
  • Physical trauma to the neck or vertebrae including falls, car accidents, violent, repetitive and excessive coughing, and sneezing, spontaneous events like twisting and bending.

Can a chiropractor fix bulging discs?

Yes. Many people prefer chiropractic treatment for bulging discs because it’s non-invasive conservative care and doesn’t involve injections or drugs. After getting a diagnosis, you’ll work with your chiropractor to find the best method of treating your condition.

Before treatment, chiropractors verify the diagnosis through a series of questions on your medical history, tests on nerve function, physical examination, muscle tone, reflexes, numbness, and history of injury. Some also order an x-ray and an MRI scan since they show the soft tissue of bulging discs. As such, they perform accurate diagnostics and deliver the right treatment.

The beauty of chiropractic care is its approach to healing. The chiropractor will examine your spine and not just the sore or painful spot. They’ll treat the spinal column and offer tips for a healthy weight, good posture, nutritional recommendations, and stretching exercises that’ll help you lead a pain-free life without pain medication.

The pain you are experiencing could be caused by spinal misalignment hence the thorough spinal checkup. A will use gentle and low force techniques to relieve pain by manipulating the spinal segments at and around the disc through chiropractic adjustments.

Lumbar or cervical traction machines help open the cervical spine joints to relieve pressure from the discs, allowing spinal nerves to decompress, and the bulge to pop back into place. Chiropractic treatment for disc herniation is effective, long-lasting, and effective.

If you need a chiropractor to help ease your pain, improve your mobility and quality of life, call ProHealth Chiropractic Wellness Center Wellness Center on (301) 231-6550.

How long does it take for a chiropractor to fix a bulging disc?

Generally, it takes a chiropractor a few weeks, usually between 6 weeks and 3 months. However, how long it takes a patient to resume normal activity varies.

It’s crucial not to rush the healing process. While back pain may be relieved early on in the treatment process, you should allow the vertebrae to recover before you resume normal daily activities.

What happens if a bulging disc goes untreated?

When left untreated, the symptoms get worse as constant pressure on nerves gradually intensifies.

When nerves are compressed, they can misfire, making pain worse along the sciatic nerve and causing leg pain or numbness and tingling in your shoulder blades, arms, hands, legs, and other body parts. If not attended to, the symptoms worsen as the disc expands and distorts, causing other symptoms.

Be sure to check out our post on What is sciatica here.

When the disc gets out of place, the bones rub together, causing sharp pain. Other effects include losing bladder control if the bulging discs press against the nerve connected to the bladder.

Eventually, bulging discs can lead to a herniated disk that could require surgery or other treatment options such as pain management injections, or a spinal fusion. 

Let’s help you ease your pain

If you suspect you have a bulging disc, contact ProHealth Chiropractic Wellness Center. Instead of spinal surgery, we offer effective and safe non-surgical treatments to relieve symptoms of bulging discs and lower back pain. The first step in our treatment process is a consultation with a professional who assesses the problem and develops a plan of action, often with x-ray guidance.

Our nonsurgical treatments and care are holistic, and we’ll present you with an opportunity to ease the pain and numbness you’ve been dealing with for years.