What is a Bulging Disc?

Bulging DiscA bulging disc can be in the back or neck and indicates there is a problem in the surrounding spinal structures. A disc bulge signifies that 50% or more of an intervertebral disc is being squeezed beyond its natural boundaries-whether it is an increase in spinal load or overall "weakness" of a spinal disc.  In terms of back pain, a bulging disc, in and of itself, is not actually painful, but it is the catalyst for other spinal conditions such as spinal stenosis, sciatica and nerve compression.

Although you can have a disc bulge in your back or neck, most affect the lower back alos known as your lumbar spine. Some happen in the neck also known as your cervical spine and, more rarely, in the upper back or your thoracic spine.

Bulging Disc Symptoms

Common bulging disc symptoms associated with a disc bulge are back pain, numbness and tingling that send signals to your extremities that you feel "pinched" or "compressed". A bulge in your lower back will be felt low in your lumbar spine, buttocks, legs and feet. Neck disc bulges will have similar symptoms in the shoulders, arms and hands. Over time weakness may be felt in these muscles associated with the pain-a result of the compressed pathways that are not getting vital nutrients delivered to them.

Typically you will not have symptoms of a disc bulge until there is a tear, significant degeneration or a herniation.
The most common cause of a disc bulge is age. As we age our spine begins to degrade causing the outer ring of our intervertebral disc to weaken. When the disc has become too weak and can no longer manage the pressure placed on it, the internal material will bulge through. Clinical symptoms will occur once the disc bulge is associated with disc tear, degeneration, and herniation. If a herniated disc is not pressing on a nerve, you may not experience any pain at all.

How is Bulging Disc Diagnosed?

As a back pain specialist, your doctor may diagnose a herniated disc by asking questions about your symptoms and examining you. If your symptoms clearly point to a herniated disc, you may not need tests. Most doctors will review tests such as an MRI or a CT Scan to confirm a herniated disc or rule out other health problems.

Bulging Disc Treatment Options

It’s important to research and discuss all your options with your physician. We believe in conservative approaches to treatment, and only consider surgery when necessary. At Spine Centers of America, we put the patient first and devise a treatment plan specific to your issue.


An asymptomatic disc bulge does not need treatment. For symptomatic patients, initial treatment should be conservative in nature and may include physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, DRX non-surgical manipulations, manipulations under anesthesia, or spinal injections.


If after 6 weeks conservative treatments have failed to yield sufficient results, the patient is considered a candidate for a lumbar endoscopic discectomy. Before any procedure, we would do further examination to determine a precise diagnose. For example, does the patient have a disc tear, degeneration, herniation or other possible sources of pain that might be causing the problem.

Depending on the diagnosis, the patient may have several treatment options. For example, a cervical or lumbar endoscopic discectomy may deliver pain relief with minimal recovery time. During the procedure the painful tear, disc degeneration or herniation is removed with a laser or other micro surgical equipment. Spine Centers of America performs these procedures on an “outpatient” basis.  They have a low incidence of complication, however, because it involves  the spine, it is strongly recommended that a board certified spinal surgeon perform the procedure. Every physician at our comprehensive spine center is a board certified spinal surgeon.

If you need more information about this condition, feel free to contact us to speak with a spine specialist.