Bulging Disc Causes & Symptoms
What are the Causes of a Bulging Disc in the Back?
When a spinal disc becomes traumatized via an injury to your back or neck the disc can begin a degenerative cascade where the outer part of the disc, annulus fibrosis begins to crack and weaken. The physical force from working, standing, and physical activity we apply on our discs can cause the inner part of your disc, called the nucleus pulposus, to bulge or herniate through the weakened annulus. A bulging disc in the back may never become symptomatic and many people live with them daily. However, if the annulus continues to degenerate and crack the bulging disc can herniate, protrude, extrude or even in worst cases sequester.
Additional Causes of a Bulging Disc
As we age, degenerative changes can occur to our spine. Some people with degenerative disc disease age with no spinal pain or problems. However, many people suffer daily with pain due to degenerative changes in the disc and spinal column. A bulging disc in an elderly person has chemical alterations to the integrity and cushioning of the disc and it loses moisture and begins to weaken the tough outer annulus fibrosis much like a dry fragile sponge. As a result, the disc may herniate or bulge and the disc can lose height affecting the vertebrae and facets causing other spinal issues. The ligaments supporting the spinal column can weaken as well, increasing the likelihood of a bulging disc in the lower back.
Jobs that require repetitive movement, heavy labor lifting, coupled with poor back or lifting posture can lead to unwanted weakening and strain of the spinal disc and spinal column. The daily accumulative results on the spine in poor work conditions can result in a degenerative effect on the spine and expose the worker to the possible herniated or bulging disc.
Traumatic injuries to the spine often happen from a car accident, heavy lifting strain, and contact from physical sports or exercise. The repetitive motion and insult to the injury can start a degenerative disc cascade that can lead to a bulging or herniated disc. These types of injuries can cause symptomatic trauma to your lower back or neck.
Poor And Unhealthy Posture
Poor neck and back posture and lack of routine maintenance and exercise to strengthen your abdominal and back muscles can also contribute to a bulging disc. Not protecting against poor lifting and posture habits while at work, home or play can expose yourself to unwanted strains that can directly weaken your back and neck. A good example of poor posture is lifting mainly with your lower back instead of keeping your back straight and using your legs to lift safely.
Degenerative disc disease, for some people, can be attributed to family genetics. The inherited risks for degenerative disc disease makes a person a high risk for a bulging or herniated disc as well as multiple level disc disease.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Bulging Disc?
A bulging disc can be non-symptomatic for many people. Those who do suffer from disc protrusion symptoms often learn to live with it and adjust their lifestyle to cope with them. When bulging disc symptoms become severe and unbearable, the quality of life for those suffering becomes debilitating. A bulging disc can cause significant loss of days at work, leisure, daily activities, and sports.
Bulging Disc Symptoms By Region Of The Spine
When a disc begins to bulge, it can extend outward and compress the spinal cord or one of the spinal nerve roots. This compression of the spinal cord and nerves can cause symptoms, depending on the region of the bulging discs, into your shoulders, arms, hands or hips, low back, legs, and feet.
The most common areas for bulging disc symptoms occur in the cervical and lumbar region. A thoracic bulging disc is not as common because the rib cage helps in spinal mobility. These dis protrusion symptoms range from pain, muscle weakness, numbness, burning or tingling sensation. Being able to describe these symptoms to your doctor, are very helpful in diagnosing your problem.
Cervical Symptoms | Neck, Arm, Hands
A pinched nerve or bulging disc in the neck or cervical spine can produce an array of symptoms in your neck, shoulders, arms, and into your hands and fingers. Depending on the location of the bulging disc, the symptoms can affect one side or both sides of your upper torso. Certain movements of your neck and arms such as rotating your neck or bending your neck backward, forward or sideways can send sharp pain or tingling sensation down one or both arms into the fingers. Some people with bulging nerves can experience tightness, spasms and severe pain in the neck and shoulders with activity.
Lumbar Symptoms | Low Back, Legs, Feet
When a bulging disc in the lumbar region compresses your spinal nerves, disc protrusion symptoms can be felt in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. The spinal cord ends around the beginning of the lumbar region and becomes a bundle of nerves called the dura. A bulging disc compressing the exiting nerve can also affect the sciatic nerve, a nerve running from your hip down both sides of your legs.
Depending on what level the bulging disc is and where it is located, symptoms can be felt bilaterally and affect both legs but often just one side. Sciatica symptoms typically affect one side of your body but can develop in both legs in some people who have severe spinal or foraminal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal).