A bulging disc occurs when the fibrous outer layers of a spinal disc weaken, allowing the disc to bulge outside its normal bounds. Unlike a herniated disc, a bulging disc does not actually involve the leakage of core tissues outside of damaged outer layers. Usually, bulging discs do not cause any noticeable symptoms. In fact, many people actually have bulging discs without realizing it until they appear on radiological images (x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc.). In some cases, however, the bulging disc can cause a significant amount of pain or even disability.

Bulging discs occur most often in the lumbar region of the spine (the lower back). If the disc causes pressure between certain lumbar vertebrae, it can lead to frustrating sciatic nerve pain. Sciatic nerve pain is characterized by pain that may radiate from the lower back down to the buttocks and legs, or even out to the arms. Other symptoms of a severely bulging disc can include spastic reflexes or even paralysis.

A bulging disc is not necessarily a sign that there’s a serious issue with your spine. In fact, bulging discs are generally a result of natural degeneration from aging. If pressure on the disc causes further weakening or bulging that leads to spinal stenosis (narrowing of disc space), a bulging disc can be of concern, but much of the time bulging discs are fairly benign.

Non-surgical treatment for bulging discs may include anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications, exercise and/or physical therapy. If the bulge is more severe and a doctor suspects that it may eventually rupture or cause significant narrowing of disc space, the doctor may recommend a surgical option like a discectomy to remove the disc and prevent the issue from worsening.

If you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain that you believe may be related to an undiagnosed bulging disc, our clinic can help evaluate your condition and find the right treatments to bring you back to a healthy, pain-free life.