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When Is it Time to Consider Bulging Disc Surgery?

Bulging Disc

Bulging discs are an extremely common condition, affecting millions of people every year. Typically related to age-related changes that affect everyone, a bulging disc occurs when a spinal disc bulges out of its normal position.

The discs, which act as shock absorbers, lose elasticity due to natural loss water. A bulging disc is distinct from a herniated disc in that the outer layer of the spinal disc stays intact, where a herniated disc is when inner disc material pushes out through a tear or rupture.

A bulging disc is not necessarily painful, but can develop painful symptoms if displaced disc material narrows nerve pathways and puts pressure on a nerve. Bulging disc symptoms include local neck or back pain, shooting pain, leg pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness.

In severe cases, a bulging disc can cause debilitating pain that interferes with quality of life. People with bulging disc pain can find it difficult to function at work or while performing everyday activities around the house. Many people in this situation wonder if surgery to treat a bulging disc is the best treatment option.

To help answer this important question, the experts at USA Spine Care have created the following informative guide. As you read over the following article, we invite you to reach out to one of our caring representatives if you have any questions or are interested in learning more about your treatment options.

Bulging disc treatment typically begins with conservative options

Except in rare circumstances, most people diagnosed with a bulging disc as the source of symptoms such as neck pain, back pain or leg pain first attempt nonsurgical therapies to treat the spinal disc condition. Certain symptoms, such as severe pain, complete numbness, loss of motor skills and urinary or bowel incontinence, may be a sign of cauda equina syndrome caused by a bulging disc. This serious yet rare condition requires immediate surgery, anyone experiencing one or more of the above symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

As an age-related condition, the underlying causes of bulging discs are not reversible. The spinal discs themselves receive relatively low blood flow, meaning that injuries and conditions affecting them are very slow to heal. This is why the primary goal of conservative treatment is to relieve and manage pain while also taking steps to improve spine function and reduce pressure on the discs.

Options to relieve and manage pain include:

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Cold therapy, such as an ice pack, to reduce inflammation and numb the area
  • Heat therapy, such as a heating pad, to relieve tense muscles and improve blood flow
  • Steroid injection, including a numbing agent, to relieve pain and inflammation on a long-term basis

Doctor-recommended methods for improve function and reducing pressure on the spinal column to relieve nerve compression include:

  • Periods of rest, as needed
  • Modifying activities to reduce pressure on the spinal disc
  • Moderate exercise to help strengthen core muscles and assist with weight management
  • Posture improvement to evenly distribute weight and reduce stress on the bulging disc
  • Physical therapy to address mechanical issues, functional problems and to strengthen supporting muscles

Committing to long-term treatment and spine-healthy lifestyle

Bulging disc surgery is typically a last-resort treatment option, which is why patients should be prepared to fully explore all available treatment options. It is also essential to optimize your spine health through healthy choices that keep the spine supported and can help relieve pressure on spinal discs.

As shock absorbers, these rubbery pieces of cartilage absorb tremendous amounts of stress, which is part of the reason why they bulge out of place. While no one can reverse the natural forces that cause the spinal discs to become displaced, making the following lifestyle choices can help slow them down while reducing stress on your discs:

  • Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle
  • Eating a nutrient-rich anti-inflammatory diet
  • Practicing good posture
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding tobacco products

By committing to doctor-recommended treatment and practicing a healthy lifestyle, many people with a bulging disc enjoy a good quality of life without undergoing surgery.

Considerations for bulging disc surgery

If weeks or months go by without an improvement in symptoms and conservative treatment has been exhausted, many patients will begin to seriously consider surgery. It’s important that your surgeon positively identifies the bulging disc as the source of symptoms through a thorough evaluation. Diagnostic tests, such as nerve blocks, movement tests, and an MRI, can help rule out other problems, such as SI joint dysfunction.

Once the bulging disc is determined to be the cause of symptoms, it is also important to make plans for the recovery process. Bulging disc surgery, such as a discectomy, can very often be performed on an outpatient basis, thanks to the continued development of minimally invasive spine surgery. This approach helps reduce the recovery time and lower the risk of certain complications compared to traditional open spine surgery performed in a hospital setting.

USA Spine Care is a multidisciplinary specialist in bulging disc treatment. Whether you are exploring conservative therapies such as steroid injection or seriously considering surgery, our experts can help you develop a personalized treatment plan. We’re passionate about helping people reclaim their life and get back to the people and activities you love.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

Bulging Disc Quick Answers:

How do you treat a bulging disc?

Bulging discs are often treated initially with conservative options. This includes a combination of at-home treatment such as rest and over-the-counter medication as well as physical therapy or steroid injections. Surgery is generally elective, but can be a serious consideration if pain does not improve or worsens.

Can a bulging disc heal on its own?

Although it is possible for a single instance of bulging disc to improve, the underlying factors are age-related. Over time our spinal discs lose water and elasticity, making them more likely to become displaced in the spinal column. This makes reinjury and progressive injuries like disc herniation very common for many people.

Is a bulging disc serious?

A bulging disc is rarely serious. In some cases, it may not cause symptoms at all. However, a bulging disc can cause a rare yet serious condition called cauda equina syndrome that requires immediate attention and surgery. Signs of a serious bulging disc include severe pain, paralysis, complete numbness and bladder or bowel dysfunction.

What are the symptoms of a bulging disc in the back?

A bulging disc can cause localized neck and back pain, as well as symptoms related to nerve compression. This includes radiating pain into the extremities, leg pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness.

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