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Back or leg pain can be a significant drawback, especially for those with an active lifestyle. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort that is preventing you from doing the things you enjoy, it may be time to seek more information about what is causing it and how to resolve it. Many cases of back and leg pain are due to a bulging disc, a common condition related to the soft material between the segments of your spine.

If you think your pain may be caused by a bulging disc, it’s a good idea to learn more about the condition so you and your doctor can find the best way to address it. What follows is a surgeon’s guide to bulging disc symptoms and treatments so that you can feel more confident about your path to a more active and comfortable lifestyle.

What Is a Bulging Disc?

The spine is made up of segments called vertebrae, and between those vertebrae are soft, spongy discs. These discs act as shock absorbers and allow the spine to be more mobile. However, often due to the natural aging of the spine, the structures that keep the disc in place can weaken and cause some disc material to move or “bulge” into the spinal canal. The spinal canal is the space through which nerves connect the spine to the rest of the body, and any disc material that intrudes has the potential to irritate the nerves and cause pain.

Bulging discs are extremely common and are indeed part of the normal aging process.  They are different from herniated discs, which describe a situation in which a piece disc has escaped into the spinal canal, often compressing nerves. Herniated disc symptoms can include muscle weakness, tingling, numbness and, most commonly, leg or arm pain. The location of these sensations can vary with the location of the problematic disc.

Bulging discs that are not associated with stenosis, a disc herniation or something else significant rarely cause neurological symptoms.  They can however be associated with back pain, but fortunately this pain can almost always be treated conservatively, without surgery.

Conservative Treatment

One of the most effective treatments for symptoms associated with a bulging disc is simply to take anti-inflammatory medicine wait and see if the symptoms go away. Bulging discs are often a part of the natural aging process and can therefore be treated conservatively. With time, the pain and discomfort they cause can fade away on their own. If necessary, your doctor may prescribe pain medication to help this process along.

Another common conservative treatment is physical therapy. The cause of spine pathology like bulging discs is frequently a lack of muscle strength around the spine. By exercising and strengthening those back muscles, you provide support to the affected area of the spine by reducing the strain placed on it. The majority of patients with pain or discomfort from a bulging disc find relief with some combination of rest, pain medication and physical therapy.

Surgery

There may be some situations where diagnosis of a bulging disc leads to surgery, but this is usually when another pathological process is present as well.  If you are considering surgery for a bulging disc that is not associated with some other significant pathology, make sure your doctor has ruled out other causes of your condition.

Final Thoughts

A bulging disc can certainly be a hindrance, but it’s important to know that it’s often part of the natural aging process. Surgery is an option, but your symptoms are likely to improve with the right combination of rest, pain medication and exercise. You may use this guide to inform discussions with your doctor about your bulging disc symptoms and how best to address them.

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