What Are the Symptoms of a Bulging Disc?

man with lower back painIf you have back or neck pain, a bulging disc is a common cause that, without treatment, can worsen over time.

In this blog, Dr. Steven Schiebert, a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who specializes in spine surgery will explain more about the symptoms of a bulging disc as well as possible treatment options.

What is a bulging disc?

Discs are made of an outer layer of tough cartilage that surrounds jelly-like substance in the center, and they serve as cushions between each of the vertebra in your spine.

When you have a bulging disc, the outer layer of cartilage bulges out from between the vertebrae that surround it. This can occur all the way around the disk, or it may involve as little as a quarter of the disc’s circumference.

What are the causes?

Over time, spinal discs are subjected to normal wear and tear as we age. The cartilage can dehydrate and stiffen, causing the disc to bulge out.

In addition, the following conditions can contribute to disc deterioration:

  • Trauma such as a fall or injury related to a car accident or sports
  • A family history of disc disease
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Repeated lifting, especially with poor technique

What are the symptoms?

In some cases, the affected disc causes no symptoms. If you experience pain, it may worsen over time and get worse during certain activities. You may also feel numbness and muscle weakness.

The location of your affected disc can also affect exactly where you feel pain.

Cervical spine (neck)

  • Pain when you move your neck
  • Pain near or above your shoulder blade
  • Pain that radiates in your upper arm, forearm, or fingers

Thoracic spine (spine in the upper and middle back, from the bottom of your neck to about five inches past the bottom of your shoulder blades)

  • Back pain
  • Pain that radiates to the chest or stomach

Lumbar spine (the lower back)

  • Back pain
  • Muscle spasms in your lower back
  • Pain or tingling in the buttocks, legs, or feet
  • Sciatica (pressure on the sciatic nerve, which can cause pain that radiates from your lower back to one or both legs)

What treatments are available?

Depending on your symptoms, conservative treatments may be the first course of action. These can effective in many cases and may include pain medication, physical therapy, or cortisone shots.

If these treatments don’t provide enough relief, surgery may be recommended in some cases. The following are possible surgical options:

Thoracic bulging disc surgery options

  • Decompression– removes a small piece of the bulging disc to reduce pressure
  • Stabilization – removal of the damaged disc and placement of an artificial implant

Cervical bulging disc surgery options

  • Minimally invasive laminoforaminotomy - to relieve nerve root compression that’s causing pain
  • Cervical disc replacement – removes a bulging disc and replaces it with an artificial one
  • Cervical fusion or posterior spinal fusion – stabilizes the spine and relieves pressure on compressed nerves
  • Laminotomy and decompression – create more space and relieve pressure

Lumbar bulging disc surgery options

  • Minimally invasive posterior or transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF or TLIF) – places a bone graft between two vertebrae.
  • Fusion surgeries (anterior lumbar interbody, oblique lumbar interbody, or extreme lateral interbody) – fuses painful vertebrae together so they heal into a single, solid bone
  • Laminotomy and decompression – create more space and relieve pressure
  • Minimally invasive laminoforaminotomy - to relieve nerve root compression that’s causing pain

Where can I find the best treatments?

New Jersey Spine Surgeons has convenient locations in Princeton and Staten Island to provide comprehensive, compassionate care for spinal issues. Dr. Steven Schiebert generally recommends conservative treatments to start, and when surgery is necessary, he uses minimally invasive procedures whenever possible.

If you’re experiencing back pain, make an appointment with New Jersey Spine Surgeons today. Dr. Schiebert will talk with you about your medical history, conduct an examination, and perform tests if more information is needed. We’ll accurately diagnose the cause of your pain and will recommend the least invasive, most effective treatments to help you get relief while preserving your motion and function.

Thank you. We will get back to you as soon as possible.