A bulging disc, also known as a herniated or ruptured vertebral disc, is a common problem. It happens when one of the spinal discs is pushed out of its normal alignment, causing part of the disc to bulge out. This can cause a lot of pain.
The discs are soft cushions that separate each of the bony spinal vertebrae to give the spine flexibility and prevent the vertebral bones from being damaged by rubbing against each other. They also cushion the spinal nerves that surround the spinal cord.
These discs, like many of the structures of our body, tend to become more brittle and less flexible with age. In many people, the discs begin to deteriorate from around age 30. Just about everyone will have less flexible discs by the time they reach the age of 50 or 60. Less flexibility means that the discs are more easily damaged. So bulging disc pain is something that many people will suffer from as they grow older.
The reason that a bulging disc is so painful is that often times, when the disc is pushed out of alignment, the spinal nerves can be pinched. This is especially likely if the person already suffers from spinal stenosis, where the space around the spinal cord and nerves has gradually narrowed over the years. This kind of thing can be happening gradually without a person knowing, until pain begins at a certain point.
Herniation of the disc may happen suddenly, for example when a person lifts something heavy or has an accident or a fall. Then the pain is likely to come on suddenly and severely. In other cases it may happen gradually over time, as the spine is strained over and over. In those cases, the pain may be occasional, becoming more and more of a problem until the person seeks treatment.
Sufferers from a bulging disc will often experience pain like an electric shock that results from the compression of the spinal nerve. This shock type pain may be felt going down your arms (when the problem is in the vertebrae of the neck) or down your legs (when the problem disc is in the lower back region). You may also have tingling or numbness in your arms or legs, and general muscle weakness.
In rare cases a herniated or bulging disc can also cause problems with urinating or having bowel movements, often accompanied by numbness in the genital area. This is a medical emergency and you should get help right away.
Treatment for a Bulging Disc
Sometimes surgery is needed, but in many cases a herniated disc will heal with rest. However, it is important to seek medical advice with any back problem. Your doctor can check that there is nothing more serious wrong with you, and prescribe pain relief medication if necessary for your bulging disc.