bulging disc vs herniated disc

Bulging Disc vs Herniated Disc: Is There Any Difference?

54% of Americans have had back or neck pain for at least five years. If you’re dealing with back pain, you’re not alone.

You may be wondering if you have a herniated disc or a bulging disc and whether there is any difference between them. If so, this post is for you. Read on to learn everything you need to know about a bulging disc vs herniated disc.

Bulging Disc vs Herniated Disc: What’s the Difference?

Before you look for treatment, it’s a good idea to become educated about your back pain. While it may seem like the terms ‘bulging disc’ and ‘herniated disc’ are used interchangeably, they are actually very different.

What is a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc is sometimes called a disc protrusion. Usually, someone who has a bulging disc won’t have any symptoms. However, if the disc is compressing on the spinal cord or an adjacent nerve, this can cause disability and discomfort.

As we get older, the outer part of our discs naturally weaken. This fibrous portion can bulge when pressure from the central part of the disc stretches to the outer rim.

Since bulging discs don’t always have symptoms, many people may have a bulging disc without knowing it. However, once the disc begins pinching a nerve, they’ll feel pain traveling to the feet, legs, butt, and hips. If the disc is bulging in the cervical spine, you may feel pain radiating from the neck down your arm to your fingers.

Most of the time, bulging discs are found in the lumbar area (lower back). This will usually be between L4 and L5 of your lumbar vertebrae and between L5 and S1. Your sciatic nerve runs along here, so if the bulging disc crowds one of the six nerves along your spine, you can expect to feel sciatic pain. This can extend down your leg and all the way to your foot.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is what will typically happen if a bulging disc is not treated appropriately.

A bulging disc means that pressure is causing the fibrous outer part of your disc to bulge. But a herniated disc is when this outer layer has a hole or is so thin that the inner portion extrudes into the spinal canal.

One way to think of this is by picturing your favorite type of filled donut. If you put pressure on the donut, you’ll see it flatten slightly and the fluid may move towards the sides. But a herniated disc is when this “donut” ruptures and some of the filling begins leaking out.

Herniated discs are much more likely to be painful since they’ll usually protrude further, making it more likely to irritate your nerves.

Sometimes, herniated discs are also called slipped discs. While you’re more at risk of a herniated disc as you age, certain motions may cause a herniated disc- particularly if it’s already bulging. People who have a sedentary lifestyle, weak muscles, and/or are overweight are also more likely to develop a herniated disc.

The Symptoms of Bulging or Herniated Discs

Keep in mind that if you don’t have any pressure on a nerve from a bulging or herniated disc, you may not even be aware that you have a problem.

Here are some of the symptoms of bulging or herniated discs:

  • Burning sensations
  • Weakness
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Soreness and stiffness
  • Cramping
  • Muscle spasms
  • Radiating pain
  • General discomfort
  • Loss of range of motion
  • And more

You’re much more likely to have symptoms from a herniated disc as a bulging disc is more likely to stay contained in one area.

Diagnosing Disc Problems

If you think you may have a bulging or herniated disc, it’s best to get it checked out. Your doctor will check your back for any pain or discomfort and may ask you to move into various positions or lie flat.

You may need an MRI, which uses radio waves to create an image of your back’s internal structure. This will confirm where your bulging or herniated disc is, and the nerves it is affecting.

Finally, your doctor or specialist may also perform a discogram. This is when you have a special dye injected into your discs. A discogram helps narrow down the source of your disc pain.

Treating a Bulging or Herniated Disc

Once a doctor confirms that you have a bulging disc, they’ll usually recommend a few different measures. Often, a bulging disc will resolve on its own. If it doesn’t, your physician is likely to choose a more aggressive approach so any symptoms can be addressed.

As soon as you’ve been diagnosed with a bulging disc, you’re likely to try the following treatments:

  • Lifestyle changes and weight loss
  • Avoiding lifting
  • A short rest period
  • Ice packs
  • Stretching techniques
  • Heat therapy
  • Targeted exercises from a physical therapist
  • Anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers
  • Cortisone (steroid) injections
  • Spinal decompression therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic treatment

Once you have a herniated disc, many specialists will start with conservative treatment such as physical therapy and medications. If your symptoms don’t improve within six weeks, you may need surgery. This is particularly true if you’re experiencing loss of bowel or bladder control, difficulty walking or standing, or weakness and numbness.

Often, a skilled surgeon will be able to just remove the portion of the disc that’s protruding. Very rarely, an entire disc will need to be removed. In this case, your vertebrae will be fused together to keep your spine stable.

Wrapping Up

If you think you may have a bulging or herniated disc, now’s the time to get it looked at. By starting treatment early, you have a greater chance of resolving the issue and avoiding surgery.

Want to talk to a professional about your back pain? We can help. Book an appointment online today so you can get to the bottom of your back pain and stop living your life in pain.

vertebral compression fracture

The Link Between Osteoporosis and Vertebral Compression Fracture

Did you know that more than 54 million Americans are at greater risk of breaking a bone?

We’re being literal here! That’s because about 10 million of these individuals have osteoporosis, while the rest suffer from low bone density. In any case, both groups have a higher tendency of breaking a bone.

Even if they don’t, they can still develop a condition called vertebral compression fracture. About 1.5 million cases of these “cracks” occur every year in the U.S. Most of them happen in people with osteoporosis or low bone density.

If you fall under any of these two high-risk groups, it’s a must to pay more attention to your spine (and general bone) health. There are ways to treat and protect yourself from a compression fracture.

Keep reading to learn about these treatments and prevention tactics!

Vertebral Compression Fracture in 50 Words

It’s a type of fracture (think cracks or breaks) affecting the spine. Also known as a spinal or lumbar compression fracture, this injury often results from osteoporosis.

In general, health professionals diagnose this for spinal vertebral bones that have lost anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of their height from a fracture.

What about Osteoporosis?

Did you know that osteoporosis literally means “porous bone?” That’s because the condition causes bone loss (including loss of bone strength). This results in a greater risk of fractures.

Osteoporosis is a “silent disease” since many don’t notice its development. In many cases, it doesn’t come with symptoms – not even discomfort or pain – until it results in a fracture.

This disease can even make sufferers shorter (as it decreases their height). It also causes dowager’s hump, a condition that gives the upper back a rounded appearance.

When Osteoporosis Is the Culprit of Compression Fractures

Osteoporosis doesn’t cause all compression fractures. But if you suffer from it, you’re more likely to sustain such bone injuries.

Thinning and weakening of the bones are part of the aging process. But osteoporosis makes them worse. It causes severe weakening of the bones, which then makes them more susceptible to breaking.

This means that osteoporosis sufferers can fracture themselves even with the simplest activities. Extending the arms to reach for something, twisting to look around, and even coughing or sneezing may lead to a fracture.

That’s why even the slightest excess pressure on a weakened spine can cause it to fracture. When this happens, the front of the vertebra cracks. Over time, it decreases in height.

Signs You Have Spinal Compression Fractures

Back pain – check. Intensified back pain when standing or walking – check. Loss of restricted spinal mobility – check.

All these are common compression fracture symptoms. Especially back pain, which can affect as much as 80 percent of the population.

Note that back pain is so common that it’s a symptom of many other conditions. For instance, those who have lumbar degenerative disc disease also suffer from back pain.

The pain that comes with a compression fracture often affects the area near the back. In many cases, these fractures develop near the waistline. But it can also occur in the mid-chest or the lower back area.

Moving also makes the pain more apparent or severe. This is especially true when you change positions. Or even when you cough or sneeze.

Another sign that you have a spinal compression fracture is when lying down or resting relieves the pain.

Keep in mind that while acute (short-term) back pain is more common with vertebral fractures, these bone injuries can still result in chronic (long-term) pain. Not addressing it right away can also cause your internal organs to crowd.

Furthermore, the pain you experience can lead to loss of physical activity and exercise. This may result in muscle loss and weakness. All these can affect your self-esteem.

The Good News

All these stats and facts about compression fractures can make anyone concerned, especially if you already suffer from osteoporosis. But don’t lose to your condition (and pain) yet!

First off, you don’t have to worry too much about spinal cord damage or nerve injuries. That’s because most compression fractures only damage the front area of the vertebral column.

You do need to address your osteoporosis right away. Treating the root of fractures is key to preventing them from worsening and growing in number. Also, osteoporosis treatment is very effective in most cases.

Know that even simple changes in sleeping positions can help ease back pain. For instance, you can try putting a pillow between the knees and sleeping on your side.

Besides adding calcium supplements to your diet, you should also stock up on vitamin D. If you smoke, keep reducing it until you quit. Not only will this help with your osteoporosis and spinal compression fractures, but it will also benefit your lungs, skin, and teeth.

When Your Condition Warrants Surgery

Sometimes, spinal compression fractures can still cause pain even after you implement all the above-mentioned tips. If resting, pain medication, or back bracing didn’t help, consider surgery.

Today, you’ll find minimally-invasive surgical procedures for osteoporosis and compression fractures. There’s Kyphoplasty, for instance.

Also known as “Balloon Vertebroplasty,” this spinal compression fracture treatment helps in restoring the natural shape of the spine. It also helps ease the pain, with some patients feeling its beneficial effects right away.

This is only one of your treatment options, though. To find out if you’re a good candidate for this treatment and others, it’s best to consult a spinal disorder specialist.

Be Back on Your Back in No Time

Suffering from a vertebral compression fracture stop you from living your life. With advancements in spinal health technology, you can be back on your feet (and back) and prevent osteoporosis complications.

You should also check our other back pain management tips to help you live a healthier, more comfortable life!