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Bulging / Herniated Disc

A bulging disc results when an intervertebral disc, which serves as a cushion between the vertebrae, loses its typical shape and compresses the spinal cord and/or nerve root. A herniated or ruptured disc results when a disc tears and releases its inner gel-like material, compressing the spinal cord and/or nerve root.

Causes
A bulging or herniated disc is usually caused by injury or gradual wear and tear of the disc over time. With age, spinal discs lose some of their water content, become less flexible, and may begin to degenerate. This can cause the disc to lose shape (bulging disc), or tear and release its inner gel-like interior (herniated disc). Lifting objects without bending at the knee, twisting while lifting a heavy item, slipping and falling, car accidents, or mishaps while exercising can also cause a disc to bulge or herniate. Genetics, bad posture, smoking, and being overweight can also increase the risk for disc problems.

Symptoms
Your lumbar (lower) back is the part of the spine that gives you the most mobility and, consequently, it sustains the most wear and tear. If you have a bulging/herniated lumbar disc, it may be compressing the sciatic nerve, which could result in pain originating in your lower back and radiating through your buttocks, legs and feet. In addition to pain, you may experience numbness and/or weakness. Most people experience these symptoms, known in total as sciatica, on only one side of their bodies. If you have a bulging/herniated cervical disc (neck), you could experience pain, numbness, tingling or weakness anywhere from your head and neck to your hands. Herniation in one of the thoracic discs in your upper back can also affect your spinal cord or nerve roots, although most people don’t develop symptoms originating in this part of the spine.

Treatment
North American Spine partner physicians have the broadest range of minimally invasive solutions for your back or neck pain. Depending on the location and severity of your pain, your treatment will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Decompression: Minimally invasive decompression surgery aims to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. This pressure can be caused by many conditions. Using a surgical laser, if necessary, soft tissue will be removed and pressure on nerves will be relieved. For more on decompression, see Decompression.
  • Stabilization/Fusion: Minimally invasive stabilization/fusion surgery aims to restore spinal stability lost to collapsed discs. Diseased material is removed and stability is regained by fusing vertebrae or replacing diseased material with specialized hardware. For more on stabilization, see Stablization
  • Injections: Injections aim to reduce inflammation, block pain, and/or aid in the regeneration of healthy nerve passages. These procedures often are not permanent solutions, but they may be repeated when pain returns. They are extremely quick procedures with virtually no recovery time.
  • Other Procedures: North American Spine partner physicians may suggest other types of procedures, including the placement of a Spinal Cord Stimulator, an implanted device that blocks the pain signals created by a variety of conditions. For more on our other procedures, see Other Procedures.
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