What is a Bulging Disc?
The spinal discs between these segments make up the spine. Spinal discs protect the spinal cord, and give the spine greater flexibility. Every disc has a jelly-like interior and an outer layer that is more durable.
As the spine ages, discs can become dehydrated and stiffen. The common result of dehydration or stiffening is that discs can become compressed or flattened. The outer, fibrous disc can “bulge into” the spinal canal. It is like a hamburger that is too big to fit in its bun. This is not a cause for concern, but is a normal part in aging. Although bulging discs can sometimes cause nerve compression within the spinal canal, these are not common conditions and usually don’t cause symptoms. If stenosis is not present, treatment for a bulging disc is rare.
What is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated Disc is when a large part of the disc’s outer layer is exposed or when it becomes too thin and stretched out to allow a significant amount of the inner layer to move into the spinal channel. The first case is often called “non contained,” “extruded”, and “free fragment” by medical professionals. The second situation is called “contained fragment.”
To understand the difference between bulging discs and herniated ones, think of a jelly doughnut. A slightly flattened bulging disc is similar to an intact jelly donut. The donut can rupture and some jelly may leak out. This is what makes it a herniated or bulging disc.
Bulging Disc vs. Herniated Disc
It can irritate and/or cause compression of nearby spinal nerves when a disc bursts. Patients suffering from disc pathology often report discomfort and pain as the main causes. Patients with disc pathology may experience different symptoms depending on whether they have a bulging or herniated disc.
Both conditions can cause leg and back pain, tingling, numbness, and loss of movement. Herniated or bulging discs are more common. The risk of nerve irritation is lower with a bulging disc than with a herniated disc.
An MRI will confirm if a bulged disc is herniated or not. However, even if a herniated spine is confirmed by MRI it does not necessarily mean that the disc is responsible for your pain. Many people with bulging or herniated discs on MRI report no discomfort or pain. Your doctor can help you determine the exact condition of your spine by performing a physical exam and talking to you.
Your spine is supported by discs. They consist of a tough outer layer of cartilage that surrounds soft cartilage at the center. They’re small enough to fit between your vertebrae, so you can think of them as tiny jelly doughnuts.
discs can show signs and wear with age. discs dry out and cartilage stiffens over time. These changes can cause a disc’s outer layer to bulge out evenly around its circumference. This makes it look like a hamburger with too much meat.
While a bulging disc does not always affect the entire disc’s perimeter, at least 25% to 50% of the disc’s circumference will be affected. Only the outermost layer of tough cartilage can be affected.
A herniated or ruptured disc occurs when some of the cartilage’s tough outer layer is cracked and allows for the inner cartilage, which is more flexible, to protrude through the disc. Herniated discs may also be known as ruptured discs and slipped discs. However, the entire disc does not break apart or slip. The crack is only affected in a small area.
A herniated or bulging disc is more likely to cause pain than a bulging disc. Because it generally protrudes more and is more likely to irritate nerve roots, a herniated distal disc is more likely. You can either experience irritation from a compressed nerve or, more common, painful inflammation of a nerve root.
Imaging tests may indicate that you have a herniated or bulging disc. However, this might not be the source of your back problems. Many people with back pain don’t have MRI evidence that their discs are herniated.
It is difficult to understand the spinal terminology. Patients can confuse bulging discs and herniated discs as they often refer to the same conditions. However, because they have similar terms, it is sometimes difficult for them to know which one best suits their symptoms.
You can keep your spine healthy by doing research and asking your doctor questions. Use this guide as a starting point to start a conversation with your doctor about how to best address your spine’s health.