A bulging disc, also known as a herniated or ruptured vertebral disc, is a common problem. This condition is caused by a mis-alignment of one of the spinal discs, which leaves part of the disc bulging out. This problem can be extremely painful.
The discs are soft and work as cushions between the bony spinal vertebrae, stopping the vertebral bones from rubbing against each other and giving the spine flexibility to move. Another one of their functions is to cushion the nerves surrounding the spinal cord.
These discs, like many of the structures of our body, tend to become more brittle and less flexible with age. Many begin to experience disc deterioration by the time they are 30 years old. Just about everyone will have less flexible discs by the time they reach the age of 50 or 60. And of course, being less flexible, the disc can undergo more damage. Generally speaking, many people end up with bulging disc as they get older.
What makes a bulging disc painful is the fact that when a disc is pushed out of alignment, the nerves surrounding the area can get 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 process can take place without the person even being aware of it, and most won’t even know it until they start feeling pain.
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, the disc can become herniated from straining the spine repeatedly over time. In these cases, the pain is not as severe and only comes on occasionally, often more and more often until treatment is established.
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). Tingling in your arms and legs, or numbness, is also common.
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 should be considered an emergency, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
Surgery can correct this condition, but in most cases, rest is all that’s needed to correct the problem and heal the disc. In any case, you should report any problems with your back to your doctor. Your doctor can check that there is nothing more serious wrong with you, and prescribe pain relief medication if necessary for your bulging disc.