Back pain | What’s the difference between a disc bulge and disc herniation?
A disc injury is one of the most common causes of back pain. Whether it’s a disc bulge or a disc herniation, understanding your condition is an important part of your health education. After all, if you understand how your body works, you can support yourself in treatment and recovery.
What is a Vertebral Disc?
Both injuries relate to your vertebral disc. This disc, which lies between adjacent vertebrae in your spinal column:
- Keeps each pair of vertebrae separate to allow adequate space for your spinal nerves to exit between the vertebral bodies
- Allows movement in all planes including flexion, extension and rotation
- Absorbs shock or pressure from compression and torsion
A bulging disc (also called a disc protrusion) is when the tough outer fibrous layers of the disc, called the annulus fibrosus, have a weak spot. The inner contents of the disc (a gelatinous protein substance called the nucleus pulposus) put pressure against this weak spot, eventually causing an outwards bulge in the disc.
The bulge itself can be asymptomatic or painful. If the bulge presses against an adjacent nerve, the nerve may ecome irritated and inflamed. This might result in pain or dysfunction in other body areas. It depends which nerve is affected and what structure it supplies.
Also referred to as a “slipped” or ruptured disc; a herniated disc is when the tough outer fibrous layers of the vertebral disc may have a tear. This tear permits the inner gelatinous contents to push through the outer fibres, beyond the disc wall.
There are several possible symptoms if the protrusion presses against adjacent nerves. This may include severe pain, numbness, tingling, burning, radiculopathy (pain down a limb) and weakness. A herniation is likely to be more painful than a bulge. The inner gelatinous content, not normally located outside of the disc, is detected as a foreign substance by your nervous system. This causes a cascade of inflammatory responses.
Cause of Disc Bulge or Herniation
A disc bulge or herniation can be caused by a traumatic injury or accident that causes extreme pressure on the fibrous disc layers. Sports or heavy lifting while rotating, or poor unguarded lifting, can cause undue stress on the disc, possibly leading to degeneration.
However, in many people disc degeneration is consistent with normal wear and tear. If this applies to you, your injury might only become problematic once you start to experience pain. Our team at Sydney Sports and Spine is experienced in treating injuries of this nature and can tailor a care plan specific to you to help you get back on your feet as soon as possible.
At Sydney Spine and Sports Clinic, we put you first. We believe in offering chiropractic care that enables you to make informed and educated choices about your health. If you are suffering pain and would like to talk to us about how we can help you get mobile and active again – get in touch right here.