A bulging disc is a very common spine injury. It can commonly be referred to as a slipped disc or a protruding disc. However, when the disc bulge is significant enough for the disc nucleus to come out of the annulus, it is known as a herniated disc.

What is a disc?

Spinal discs are the shock-absorbing rings of fibrocartilage that sit between the bony vertebral bodies. They allow movement at each spinal level and create space between each vertebrae for the major spinal nerves to exit from the spinal canal and travel down to the limbs.

Looking from above, the disc looks like a slice of onion with a jelly-like nucleus in the middle and several rings around it, the annulus. The nucleus in the disc centre normally moves within the annulus adjusting to the pressure placed on the spine.

The annulus can be torn or strained, which can result in the nucleus pressing towards the torn rings, changing the shape of the disc – referred to as a bulging disc. This condition may or may not be painful, but when pain is experienced it is usually felt to one side of the lumbar spine and/or down to the gluteal area.

A disc bulge can potentially irritate or press against a spinal nerve, which can cause lower back or leg pain, pins & needles, numbness and weakness in the leg.

Causes

Disc injury usually occurs typically due to:

  1. Accumulated overload causing microtears in the annulus overtime. This is usually caused by prolonged static postures (e.g. sitting) or excessive training loads.
  2. Sudden increase in pressure through the disc, causing annular tear. This is very common with lifting heavy objects in an awkward position, particularly if the individual is unaccustomed to such loads. Most sudden-onset disc bulges also have an underlying longer-term overload component.

Symptoms

  • Lower back pain
  • Buttock pain
  • Leg/foot pain, pins and needles, numbness or weakness
  • Tightness in back of thigh and calf
  • Altered bladder and bowel function

The symptoms are usually aggravated by sitting, bending, twisting, lifting, coughing, sneezing. They are often eased by lying flat and walking.

Tips for management of acute lumbar disc injury

  • All disc injuries need to be managed differently, so the first step is to get a thorough assessment from a physio to determine what has caused the injury and the best line of treatment
  • Avoid high impact activities but try to maintain a gentle exercise routine, if it doesn’t aggravate the pain
  • Walk around and move as much as possible
  • Avoid sitting for long periods. Take regular breaks, stand up and move around as much as possible
  • Maintain good posture when sitting – try to keep your knees lower than your pelvis, weight on your sitting bones and shoulders relaxed
  • For the first week or so avoid activities that involve bending forward, twisting and lifting
  • Get a proper assessment to understand what caused the injury and pain.

Please note:

  • Not all disc injuries require surgery!
  • Most people have some form of minor disc bulge, without pain or dysfunction!
  • A disc bulge can be treated, and you can prevent recurrence with specific exercises, physio treatment and some lifestyle modifications.

If you have any more questions or would like an assessment, give us a call today!