Protruding Discs

About Protruding Discs

Protruding disc is another term for bulging or prolapsed disc that may lead to back or neck pain or nerve compression, known as a radiculopathy. The disc becomes compromised with age and may be exacerbated by poor sitting posture or heavy lifting. Rarely the protruding disc is from a specific traumatic event.  If a protruding disc does not affect a nearby nerve it is possible that it can go undetected.

As the discs weaken, stages of deterioration develop. The first stage is a disc protrusion, where the core of the disc, known as the nucleus pulposus, begins pushing against the outer shell of the disc, known as the annulus. The next stage is usually a bulging disc where more of the inner material pushes into the outer wall. The final stage of disc deterioration may be a herniated disc, when the outer wall tears and the inner material escapes. It is important to keep in mind that the terms “herniated disc,” “protruding disc” and “bulging disc” can be used interchangeably depending on the doctor, so make sure there is no miscommunications about your condition.

Common Symptoms of Protruding Discs

A protruding disc can occur anywhere along the spinal column. Symptoms will vary depending on the location of the disc protrusion. Headaches, neck pain, shoulder/shoulder blade pain, radiating pain into the arms or hands may indicate a disc protrusion in the cervical spine. When a lumbar disc protrusion occurs it can cause pain in the lower back, groin, buttock, or leg.  If nerve irritation is severe, it can lead to neurological deficits, such as numbness, sensory changes, or weakness.  Some general symptoms of a disc protrusion include:

  • Chronic neck and back pain
  • Neck or back stiffness
  • Pain/numbness  in the extremities
  • Muscle weakness

Diagnosis of Protruding Discs

Diagnosing disc protrusion based off of symptoms  can be difficult. While symptoms can appear in one part of the body, the cause of the problem can be in a different part of the spinal region. To receive an accurate diagnosis three things are needed: a detailed medical history, physical examination, and imaging testing.

Treatment Options for Protruding Discs

Nonoperative measures are considered for treating disc protrusion before surgery. Some conservative methods include:

  • Bed rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain medication

If conservative options do not alleviate pain and symptoms, surgery may be considered. Both open and minimally invasive surgical options exist.