Bulging Disc Causes and Their Effects

Most of the time, there is not one specific cause that contributes to a bulging disc. Many things may lead to a bulging disc, but age is one important factor in the equation. As we age, the discs that lie between vertebrae start to deteriorate, which is completely natural. As the discs deteriorate, they lose their flexibility and become compressed and flattened. A large part of the deterioration is the fact that discs lose water content and elasticity, which makes them weaker and less able to support the movement-related stress that the spine is subjected to on a daily basis. The flattened, stiffer discs can become exceptionally weak in one area, causing the disc to bulge out beyond its normal boundary. The pain that is associated with bulging discs occurs when the discs bulge into, and place unwanted pressure on, nerve roots or the spinal cord. This can cause symptoms of pain to affect the area of the spine that contains the bulging disc, in addition to pain, tingling, numbness, and/or muscle weakness to be felt in any areas that are innervated by the compressed nerve, such as the arms, legs, hands, and feet.

Other Causes of a Bulging Disc

a bulging discThere are, however, other causes besides age and natural degeneration that can contribute to a bulging disc. For example, another leading cause of a bulging disc is a traumatic injury. The majority of injuries that lead to bulging discs are sports-related, but work-related injuries may cause bulging discs, as well, if the field of work involves a good amount of standing, sitting, lifting, bending, or other movements that put stress on the neck or back. A family history of bulging discs and other back problems increases your chances of having a bulging disc. Also, though not direct causes, smoking and obesity are lifestyle factors that can increase the likelihood that an intervertebral disc will bulge.

What Does a Bulging Disc Mean For You?

The good news about bulging discs is that they are far more common than you think, and many times they do not require treatment. In fact, many people may never even know they have a bulging disc because the condition may never produce symptoms. The bad news about bulging discs is that, when symptoms are present because the disc bulge interferes with a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord itself, they can take the form of debilitating pain, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, a “pins and needles” sensation, and numbness in the back, neck, and/or extremities. If you think you might have a bulging disc, see your doctor, explain your symptoms, and ask about the most effective treatment options available to you. Your doctor likely will prescribe conservative, nonsurgical treatment, like physical therapy, gentle stretching, hot/cold compresses, low-impact exercise, analgesics, anti-inflammatory medicine, and spinal injections. While surgery is rarely necessary to relieve the symptoms of a bulging disc, there are some individuals who find that non-surgical treatments are not enough to treat a bulging disc, and may wish to look into surgery as an option.

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