When your back is aching, especially along the spine, you may leap to the conclusion that you have a herniated or bulging disc. Many people use the words interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two conditions.
The spine consists of individual vertebrae with a spongy cushion separating each. The discs have a gel-like substance in them (like the gel in the insoles you put in your shoes or the gel in an eye mask) called nucleus pulposas. These oval discs help the spine be more flexible because each vertebra isn’t locked into another, and they also contribute to the spine’s flexibility. When these discs are injured, they are often described as “herniated” or “bulging.”
Bulging discs–sometimes also called slipped discs–are “contained.” This means that there are no tears in the disc itself, just that the disc is protruding out from between the vertebrae.
A herniated or ruptured disc has a tear or a rupture and is “uncontained.” The disc is not merely pushing out from between the vertebrae. It is torn, and some or all of the nucleus pulposas has leaked out. A herniated disc may be the second stage of a bulging disc. The vertebrae may have put so much pressure on the bulging disc that it ruptured.
Whichever condition you are suffering from, the result can be tingling, muscle weakness, pain that ranges from moderate to severe, and numbness.
Poor posture, age, repetitive motion, injury due to strain, and normal wear and tear all contribute to bulging and herniated discs. Sometimes a bulging or herniated disc does not cause pain, but either condition can be addressed generally with a combination of targeted exercise, physical therapy, and other pain treatments, either natural or prescribed. Occasionally, a herniated or bulging disc will require corrective surgery, and many surgeries are now designed to be minimally invasive with quick recovery times.
Have you ever been diagnosed with a herniated or bulging discs?
Image by planetc1 via Flickr