Treating bulging discs without surgery in Lakeland, Florida

A bulging disc is a condition in which a disc loses its original shape and expands (bulges), which can place pressure on a surrounding nerve root and cause pain. A bulging disc in the lower back can progress into a herniated disc over time.

Discs are gel-filled pads that cushion the individual vertebrae of the spine, acting like shock absorbers and allowing movement and flexibility of the vertebrae. Sometimes, spinal discs are likened to a jelly donut with a central softer component (nucleus pulposus).

When a disc “bulges,” part of its tough outer wall can protrude into the spinal canal and press on a nerve, which causes pain. Depending on which nerve is pressed by the disc, the pain can appear in a leg, arm, or elsewhere. When this type of pain develops, especially after an accident or injury, it is important to consult your pain doctor.

There are three different distinctions for disc problems:

  • Disc protrusion: The disc’s outer wall remains intact, and the disc protrudes 180 degrees or less of the disc’s circumference.
  • Bulging Disc: The disc’s outer wall remains intact, and the disc protrudes more than 180 degrees of the disc’s circumference.
  • Herniated disc: A bulging disc’s outer wall tears and allows the inner fluid to escape.

A majority of disc injuries occur in the lumbar (lower) region of the back because the lower back bears most of the torque and force of daily movements. About 10% of disc injuries affect the upper portion of the spine.

It is also important to note the difference between a bulging disc and a herniated disc. A damaged disc may bulge, pushing into the spinal canal and causing pain. However, a bulging disc has not broken through the disc’s outer wall (ruptured). If the outer layer of the disc tears and the soft inner part of the disc leaks out, the result is a “herniated disc.” It is important to know that a bulging disc may become a herniated disc. Herniated discs can occur in any part of the spine but are more common in the lower back (lumbar spine).

Causes of a Bulging Disc

Spinal discs absorb the wear and tear that is placed on the spine. Over time, the discs start to degenerate and weaken. The most common location for bulging discs is between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae in the lower back. This area continually absorbs the impact of bearing the upper body’s weight. The lower back is also critically involved in the body’s movements throughout the day, such as twisting the torso (rotating side to side), bending, and lifting.

Degenerative disc disease is the most common cause of a bulging disc, which can result in spinal osteoarthritis. Other factors that can cause or contribute to bulging discs include:

  • Strain or injury.
  • Obesity.
  • Smoking.
  • Poor posture.
  • Inactivity.

Causes of a Herniated Disc

A herniated disc is typically the result of a change in the structure of the normal disc. Most of the time, it results from aging and the normal breakdown that occurs within the disc. However, severe injury can also cause a normal disc to herniate. An injury could also cause an already herniated disc to worsen.

Treatment for a Bulging Disc

A wide range of non-surgical treatments are available for a bulging disc, some of which may work better for some patients than others.

Specific treatment largely depends on the length of time the patient has experienced symptoms and the severity of the pain. Other considerations include the nature of the symptoms (such as weakness or numbness) and the patient’s age.

For many, the symptoms of a bulging disc will diminish over time. While there are no hard and fast guidelines for treating a bulging disc, the primary goals of any treatment are twofold:

  • To provide relief of pain, especially leg pain, which can be quite severe and debilitating.
  • To allow the patient to return to a normal level of everyday activity.

 Conservative therapy often begins with medication and physical therapy. In some cases, restricted activities may be necessary until the pain subsides. Treatments include:

  • Medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are the first-line medications for a bulging disc. For more severe pain, prescription medication may be necessary. In some cases, a muscle relaxer can help if there are muscle spasms.
  • Physical therapy. Exercise is an essential component of rehabilitation in almost all cases of back pain. A physical therapist can prescribe positions and exercises designed to minimize the pain of a bulging disc by relieving pressure on the nerve.
  • Chiropractic. Spinal manipulation can be moderately effective for low back pain lasting at least a month. The treatment is best for low-back pain.
  • Massage. This hands-on therapy often provides short-term relief for patients dealing with chronic low-back pain.
  • Ultrasound therapy. The back is treated with sound waves, which are small vibrations produced to relax body tissue.
  • Heat or cold. Initially, cold packs can help relieve pain and inflammation. After a few days, switch to gentle heat for relief.
  • Limited bed rest. Too much bed rest can lead to stiff joints and weak muscles, complicating recovery. Instead of remaining in bed, rest in a position of comfort for 30 minutes, and then go for a short walk or do some light work, avoiding activities that worsen the pain.
  • Braces and support devices. These devices can help by providing compression and stability to help reduce pain.
  • Steroids. Oral steroids can help reduce swelling and inflammation. Cortisone injections (epidural steroid injections) can provide longer-term relief because the medicine is injected into the area around the spinal nerves.
  • Drugs. Drugs initially designed to control seizures can help treat radiating nerve pain often associated with a bulging disc.
  • Spinal decompression therapy. A non-surgical form of intermittent spinal traction can help reduce bulging disc symptoms. Pain relief may last for months at a time.
  • Electrotherapy. Treatment often includes using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS). More advanced treatments include percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).

Alternative Medicine

There are also alternative and complementary treatments that may help ease the pain of a bulging disc, including:

  • Acupuncture. Although the results are usually only modest, acupuncture appears to ease chronic back and neck pain reasonably well for some patients.
  • Yoga. Yoga can often help improve function and relieve chronic back pain in some people by combining physical activity, breathing exercises, and meditation.
  • Reiki. Reiki is a Japanese treatment that aims to relieve pain by using specific hand placements.
  • Moxibustion. A method that heats specific parts of the body (called “therapy points”) by using glowing sticks made of mugwort (“Moxa”) or heated needles that are put close to the therapy points.

 If non-surgical treatments do not provide pain relief after 12 weeks of use, and the pain is severe, surgery may be an option. Fortunately, only a small number of patients with a bulging disc need surgery. However, surgery may be necessary if the patient experiences:

  • Severe pain that makes it difficult to maintain a reasonable level of everyday activity.
  • Progressive neurological symptoms, such as worsening leg weakness or numbness.

Treatment for Herniated Disc in the Lower Back

The initial treatment for a herniated disc is typically a conservative approach. Conservative treatment often includes having the patient limit activity to help decrease inflammation of the spinal nerves. Bedrest is not usually recommended. It is often helpful in relieving the pain for most patients.

By modifying activities involving movement that causes pain and taking pain medication, many patients report decreased pain after a few days or weeks.

Medications

If the pain is mild or moderate, nonprescription pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), or naproxen sodium (Aleve) may be all that is needed to provide relief. If the pain includes muscle spasms, muscle relaxers can often help.

If the pain doesn’t improve with oral medications, a corticosteroid injection into the area around the spinal nerves may help provide some relief.

Therapy

In some cases, physical therapy may help relieve the pain. A physical therapist can suggest exercises designed to help minimize the pain of a herniated disc.

Fortunately, only a few people with herniated discs require surgery. Surgery may be necessary if conservative treatments fail to improve symptoms after six weeks. In most cases, only the protruding portion of the disc requires surgery. Rarely will it be necessary to remove the entire disc. If the entire disc is removed, the surgery may also involve fusing the vertebrae with a bone graft.

Novus Spine & Pain Center

Dr. Torres established Novus Spine & Pain Center in Lakeland, Florida, with the goal of providing the highest quality pain management care to every patient. Whether pain is the result of an injury or from another condition, Dr. Torres offers many different treatment options.

Novus Spine & Pain Center utilizes a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies to restore normal function and allow patients to regain an active lifestyle while minimizing the need for opiates. As our patient, you are our top priority. Our goal is to help you achieve the best possible quality of life.

Our Mission Statement: To provide the best quality of life to people suffering from pain, by providing state of the art treatments, knowledge and skill, compassion, and respect for all.

For your convenience, you may schedule an appointment onlinerequest a call back, or call our office at 863-583-4445.

Bulging Disc Resources

Herniated Disc (Mayo Clinic)
Recommendations for Treating Bulging Discs (Spine Health)
What’s the difference between a bulging disc and a herniated disc? (Mayo Clinic)
Herniated Disc (Mayo Clinic)
Treatment Options for a Lumbar Herniated Disc (Spine Health)
Bulging Discs: About That Pain in Your Neck (Healthline)
Back Pain: What You Need to Know (WebMD)
Lumbar Disc Disease (Herniated Disc) (Johns Hopkins)
Herniated Disc (American Association of Neurological Surgeons)
Herniated Disc: Disc Herniation of the Spine (MedicineNet)

Updated: October 18, 2023