What is a Bulging Disc?
A bulging disc is a condition that results when an intervertebral disc — the discs that provide the soft cushion between vertebrae — compresses a spinal nerve. As you age, you may strain discs by injury or progressively as a result of poor posture, lack of exercise, or repeated aggravating movements — such as bending, lifting, continual standing or sitting. These factors may not individually cause harm, however over a lifetime, they can cause the intervertebral discs to lose their integrity and original shape. When discs are compressed, they may flatten out and bulge into the spinal canal. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves, which can lead to a host of painful symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Unlike a herniated disc, a bulging disc is still intact and has not broken. In some cases, a bulging disc and a spinal bone spur have occurred at the same time — this condition is known as disc osteophyte complex.
Bulging discs, also referred to as disc protrusion, is a fairly common occurrence and in early stages, many people do not suffer any symptoms. Remaining asymptomatic for some time may actually be a problem, as then a person is oblivious to the fact that there is a problem and may, inadvertently, cause further damage, especially if their job requires repetitive motions. It is not until the bulging disc begins to compress a spinal nerve that people begin to feel symptoms.
Nearly 90 percent of bulging discs occur in the lumbar area of the spine, or the lower back. The most common disc to face damage and bulge is between L4 and L5 or L5 and S1, which is where the sciatic nerve receives information. A bulging or protruding disc may cause other conditions of the spine including spinal stenosis, foraminal stenosis, and sciatica or radiculopathy. These conditions are the result of the spinal canal becoming narrow due to spinal arthritis, bone spurs or disc herniated thus putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.