A bulging disc in the spine can trigger discomfort when the disc’s outer wall extends enough to press against a nearby nerve root. Bulging discs are usually degenerative conditions, meaning they’re the result of the normal wear and tear associated with the natural aging process. A healthy disc is exceptionally resilient, absorbing daily impact and supporting the weight of the upper spine with ease. Over time, however, discs tend to lose their elasticity due to dehydration. As they weaken, they being to collapse. This process is not painful in and of itself, so many patients with a bulging disc are unaware of it until nerve compression begins. Symptoms can include localized pain at the site of the injury (most often the cervical or lumbar spine), as well as numbness, tingling, burning sensations and muscle weakness anywhere along the path of the affected nerve.
Bulging disc treatment options usually start with conservative strategies that often include:
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs — such as naproxen and ibuprofen to reduce swelling
- Exercise and stretching routines — to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility
- Cold and hot compresses — to relieve pain, shrink swelling and relax muscles
- Weight loss — to reduce pressure on the disc, allowing it to partially decompress
Another conservative treatment option is epidural steroid injections at the site of the nerve compression. This involves delivering both a corticosteroid and a numbing agent to the epidural space of the spine between the vertebra and the nerve’s protective covering. Epidural injections work in two phases. The numbing agent provides immediate pain relief, while the corticosteroid reduces swelling of soft tissue around the compressed nerve root. The procedure itself only takes a few minutes and patients are usually up and walking right after the injection, although there is a short observation period to make sure there are no adverse reactions to the medications.
The effectiveness of epidural injections varies from individual to individual. Some patients require two or more treatments delivered in one- to four-week intervals to achieve maximum effect. Pain relief can last anywhere from serval week to months or even years.
It’s important to remember that this procedure only treats the symptoms of a bulging disc. It does not heal the disc itself. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to provide long-term relief from chronic pain caused by a bulging disc in the spine. At USA Spine Care, we are the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery that is often clinically appropriate and provides many advantages versus open neck or back surgery. If you’re curious as to whether you might be a candidate for our outpatient procedures, the first step is to obtain a free MRI review.* Contact a member of our team today to learn more.