A bulging disc is a common injury that can occur in any of the intervertebral discs in your spine. It can occur in your lumbar spine (i.e. your lower back), your thoracic spine (your upper and mid-back) or your cervical spine (your neck).
Just like a herniated disc, a bulging disc can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in your arms. The effects of a bulging disc may be felt from your upper arms down to your fingers. Bulging discs are also known as slipped discs or protruding discs. They’re similar to herniated discs, but less severe. We call it a bulging disc when the annulus – the outer section of the spinal disc – begins to get “squeezed out”. When the disc bulge is significant enough for the disc nucleus to come out of the annulus, we call it a herniated disc.
Although disc bulges are less severe than a herniated disc, it’s important to seek medical treatment to avoid long-term pain, injury, numbness, and other issues. A chiropractor can help manage symptoms of a bulging disc.
What is a Spinal Disc?
A spinal disc is the shock-absorbing ring of fibrocartilage and glycoprotein separating your bony vertebral bodies while still allowing movement along the spine. The discs create enough room for major spinal nerves to exit from the spinal canal and travel to your limbs.
The outer section of the spinal disc is called the annulus. The annulus consists of several layers of fibrocartilaginous fibers in multiple directions, with all fibers densely packed to create a wall around the jelly-like nucleus of the disc.
Spinal disc bulges range from mild to moderate to severe. Some disc bulges are so severe that they lead to complete disc rupture and herniation. A bulging disc occurs when the fluid component starts to bulge. The fluid component, or the disc nucleus in the disc center, is similar to caramel inside a chocolate: this fluid normally moves within the annulus, helping the area adjust to pressures placed on your spine. If you injure the annulus, however, the wall begins to weaken, causing the nucleus to press outwards on the weakened disc wall. This forces your disc to bulge outwards.
When a disc bulge or slipped disc occurs, it can press against the nerve where it exits the spine. This can pinch the nerve, leading to back pain, spasms, cramping, numbness, pins and needles, and pain in your legs.
How Do Bulging Discs Occur?
Bulging discs can occur for two general reasons:
- You have a pre-existing weakness in the annulus
- You experienced a sudden increase in pressure through the disc, causing the fibers of the annulus to tear
Patients typically experience a bulging disc from accumulated microtrauma or a sudden and unexpected load.
Accumulated microtrauma – like consistently poor posture or poor lifting form – can eventually lead to a bulging disc. Other people experience a slipped disc from a sudden, unexpected load – like trying to handle a heavy object improperly, physical contact through sports, or a car accident.
Other patients experience spinal disc injuries due to genetic factors. Some people naturally have thinner fibrocartilaginous fibers in the annulus of their intervertebral discs, for example, which means they’re more prone to bulging discs, slipped discs, and herniated discs.
Symptoms of a Bulging Disc
Typical symptoms of a bulging disc injury include pain, numbness, and tingling in the arms, fingers, and hands. Depending on where the bulging disc is located on your spine, you might feel symptoms in different parts of your arms. Some bulging discs lead to pain specifically on the thumb side of your hand, for example, while other bulging discs lead to pain in the middle finger or on the pinkie side of your hand.
If you’re experiencing weakness, tingling, or pain in your arms, hands, and fingers, then you might be suffering from a bulging disc. For a free consultation with Lakewood’s leading chiropractor, call 720-493-5885.