Bulging Disk vs. Herniated Disc: What’s the Difference

Millions of people experience some type of back pain every year. It is important to identify the root cause of your back pain so that it can be properly resolved and you can experience long-lasting pain relief. Two common causes of back pain in individuals are bulging discs and herniated discs. When the spinal discs in your spine become aggravated or injured, they may slip out of their normal space and compress nearby nerve roots and soft tissues. Both herniated discs and bulging discs can cause pain and discomfort that starts to negatively impact your quality of life. Visit a chiropractor to learn more about bulging disc and herniated disc treatment and how chiropractic care can help.

Understanding the Anatomy of the Spine

The spine is made up of individual joints known as vertebrae. The spinal column also houses the central nervous system that runs from your brain through the spine and sends signals out to the rest of your body. There are 33 vertebrae in the spine, and they are divided into 3 sections:

Cervical Spine

The cervical spine refers to the top 7 vertebrae that are located at the base of the skull and neck.

Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine is the name of the next 12 vertebrae that comprise your upper back and middle of the back.

Lumbar Spine

The lumbar spine includes the last 5 vertebrae of the spine located in your lower back.

Spinal Discs

The anatomy of the spine also includes spinal discs that separate each of these 33 vertebrae. Spinal discs function as shock absorbers for the spine and prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against one another. These discs have elasticity and are comprised of more than eighty percent water.

Herniated Disc vs. Bulging Disc

When a spinal disc is functioning properly, it provides cushion and support between two vertebrae. As you move, the spinal disc flexes to accommodate natural movements while also preventing the vertebrae from coming into contact with one another. When a spinal disc is not functioning properly, you may be experiencing a bulging or herniated disc. These can occur in any part of the spine, though it is a more common occurrence in the cervical spine and lumbar spine.

Bulging Disc

A bulging disc refers to a spinal disc that is protruding out of its normal space, also known as a disc prolapse. A bulging disc will stay intact, though its structure is flattening and protruding into other areas of the spinal canal.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc refers to a situation with a spinal disc where the tough outer shell becomes torn or cracked and the inside of the spinal disc protrudes. When the soft inner part of the spinal disc, known as the nucleus, herniates out of its normal space, it can compress nerve roots in the spinal cord. Other common terms for a herniated disc include a slipped disc or a ruptured disc.

Symptoms of a Herniated vs. Bulging Disc

Symptoms of a herniated vs. bulging disc are similar and may also depend on the location along the spine. A herniated or bulging disc in the cervical spine can cause pain in your neck, along with tingling, numbness, and weakness that may extend into the shoulder and arm. Pain from a herniated or bulging disc may get worse with certain positions or movements. When nearby nerves are compressed by a herniated or bulging disc, it can cause neurological symptoms like the pins and needles sensation. This tingling and numbness occur when the healthy functioning of the nerve is impaired. A bulging or herniated disc in the lumbar spine can cause pain in your lower back that may extend into the hip, buttocks, and leg.

Causes of a Bulging vs. Herniated Disc

The most common cause of a bulging or herniated disc is degeneration of the spinal discs due to general wear and tear on the body. Aging will decrease the elasticity of the spinal discs, and they will become less flexible and prone to damage. Straining your back during movements like heavy lifting or twisting can also cause a bulging or herniated disc. Poor posture can also contribute to a spinal disc issue. It is also possible to experience a bulging disc or herniated disc after a sudden injury to the spine during a car accident, sports accident, or slip and fall.

Visit Killeen Chiropractic and learn more about our comprehensive approach to bulging disc and herniated disc treatment.

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