Over 3 million people in the United States alone suffer from bulging or herniated discs every year. Disc issues can occur throughout the spine, however they are most commonly found in the neck and lower back. Symptoms can vary greatly depending on the severity of the bulge or herniation, as well as the location of the problem.
What is a Disc Bulge or Herniation?
Intervertebral discs are located between each vertebra of the spine. These discs have a number of purposes including acting as a shock absorber for the spine, as well as acting as a ligament to connect each of the vertebra to each other.
The disc is a form of cartilage and consists of a hard outer ring, called the anulus, and a gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus. A disc bulge occurs when the inner portion of the disc begins to push into the outer part, causing the disc to bulge outward. As the inner portion continues to push outward, the outer ring can eventually rupture, this is known as a disc herniation. When the disc bulges or herniates, it can put pressure on spinal nerves that exit on either side of the spine. This is commonly called a “pinched nerve” and can lead to a number of different symptoms.
Symptoms Caused by Bulging or Herniated Discs
Disc problems can lead to a number of different symptoms and can vary greatly from person to person. Some disc issues may not even cause any symptoms at all.
The most common symptom associated with disc bulges or herniations is pain. This pain can be localized to the area of the disc, such as the neck or back. However, since the nerves that begin in the neck extend to the arms and the nerves in the lower back extend to the legs, a disc problem can also lead to pain in the arms or legs.
Numbness or Tingling
Although most people think of pain when they think of a pinched nerve, a bulging or herniated disc can also lead to numbness or tingling in the arms and legs. If the disc problem is located in the neck, this numbness or tingling can extend to the arms, and if it occurs in the lower back, the tingling can occur in the legs.
Nerves also control the action of the muscles throughout our body. Pressure on a nerve can alter the messages sent by the nerve to the muscles. This can lead to the muscles becoming weaker than normal. Muscle weakness in either the arms or legs is another common symptom of a disc bulge or herniation.
How Do You Know if You Have a Disc Problem?
Since the disc is soft tissue, it can not be seen on an x-ray. However, the disc spaces can be seen on x-ray, and it can be determined if the disc has degenerated, or gotten smaller, but a disc bulge can not be diagnosed on x-ray. The only way to definitively diagnose a disc bulge or herniation is with an MRI.
However, a thorough examination can determine if a disc problem is likely. One common exam finding that can indicate a disc problem is if pain is worse in flexion, bending forward, and better in extension, leaning back. There are also a number of orthopedic and neurologic tests that are effective in determining if a disc problem is leading to your symptoms.
How Can a Disc Problem Be Treated?
Chiropractic care can be effective in treating pain associated with a disc bulge or herniation. Depending on the location and severity of the disc problem, our doctor can use different techniques to adjust the spine that may be better suited for this condition. For more information on chiropractic treatment, click here.
Spinal decompression therapy can specifically target disc problems. By stretching out the spine, pressure is removed from the disc and blood flow is increased into the disc space. This helps promote healing of a bulging disc. In our office we use spinal decompression to treat disc issues in the lower back. You can find more information on spinal decompression here.