Skip to Content
TAMPA & SUN CITY 813-773-1285
BRADENTON 941-842-3855

What Is the Difference Between Bulging and Herniated Discs?

If you suffer from back pain, there is a lot of terminology to familiarize yourself with, and it can get confusing. For example, you may wonder what the difference is between bulging or herniated discs. To better understand what these terms mean, it helps to learn more about what these discs do: the spine has bone segments (the vertebrae) that are separated by cartilage cushions called discs, which act as shock absorbers.

Over time, discs show signs of wear and tear and can become dehydrated and stiff. As the discs change with age, it can cause the disc's outer layer to bulge out from the edge of the vertebrae. This is called a bulging disc. Without treatment, bulging discs can eventually herniate. A herniated disc, also called a ruptured or slipped disc, occurs when a crack in the outer cartilage layer allows some of the soft inner disc cartilage to protrude. Although not everyone feels discomfort from bulging or herniated disc, they can irritate the spinal nerves and cause debilitating back pain.

Other symptoms include pain radiating through the legs, localized pain at the site of the affected disc, muscle weakness in the lower body, tingling sensations in the legs, and neck stiffness.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Bulging or Herniated Discs

Bulging or herniated discs can be diagnosed through a series of evaluations. First, your spine surgeon will ask you about your symptoms and medical history, then take a physical exam. Imaging tests will be necessary to pinpoint the cause of your back pain. You may undergo CT or MRI scans, as well as myelograms or electromyograms, to determine if there is any pressure on your spinal cord or nerves. These tests can show the spinal cord, the condition of the nerve roots and any associated degeneration.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. The most common options include pain management such as over-the-counter painkillers, steroid injections, as well as physical therapy. These noninvasive methods may be all that is necessary for many patients, but others will require a more aggressive approach through surgical intervention. Surgery is the final step. Your doctor will discuss your surgical treatment options and help guide you to the best choice for your unique circumstances. Although back pain from a bulging or herniated disc may be unbearable, there are treatment options to help you cope and lead a better quality of life, from a minimaly invasive laminotomy, laminectomy and/or discectomy, to a spinal fusion among others. At Comprehensive Spine Institute, our surgeons can help educate you, so you know what to expect from any treatment technique to alleviate the pain and disability caused by disc problems.

If you suffer from back pain, tingling in your extremities, or mobility limitation, contact our specialists at Comprehensive Spine Institute. Our doctors will diagnose the problem and customize a treatment plan just for you. Call (727) 300-2537 today to book an appointment.