Do I Have A Herniated Or Bulging Disc?
The terms “herniated disc” and “bulging disc” sometimes are used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two conditions. Before those differences are explained, it might be helpful to understand their similarities.
Both conditions affect the intervertebral disc, which is a spongy, oval-shaped “shock absorber” that is located between the vertebrae. Discs cushion the vertebrae, contribute to flexibility, and help to protect the spinal cord. Discs are composed of a gel-like center (the nucleus pulposus) and a tough, fibrous outer layer (the annulus fibrosus). A herniated disc or bulging disc often is referred to colloquially as a slipped disc and a ruptured disc. No matter what you call them, these conditions can lead to nerve root irritation or impingement, which can cause traveling pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and other disabling symptoms.
In addition to producing similar symptoms, herniated discs and bulging discs have similar causes. Poor posture, a spinal injury, repetitive spinal strain and age can lead to either condition.
So, What Are The Differences?
A bulging disc is “contained,” which means no tear or rupture is present within the outer layer of the disc. A small “bubble” protrudes into the spinal canal. No portion of the nucleus pulposus has leaked out of the disc.
On the other hand, a herniated disc is “non-contained,” which means a tear or rupture is present. A portion of the gel-like nucleus pulposus has leaked into the spinal canal. A herniated disc might have begun as a bulging disc, but created so much pressure on the outer wall of the disc that a rupture occurred.
Not every herniated or bulging disc creates painful symptoms. Those that do generally can be managed through conservative treatment, including exercise and physical therapy.
The Most Common Signs And Symptoms:
Arm or leg pain: If your herniated disc is in your lower back, you’ll typically feel the most intense pain in your buttocks, thigh and calf. It may also involve part of the foot. If your herniated disc is in your neck, the pain will typically be most intense in the shoulder and arm. This pain may shoot into your arm or leg when you cough, sneeze or move your spine into certain positions.
Numbness or tingling: People who have a herniated disc often experience numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.
Weakness: Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This may cause you to stumble, or impair your ability to lift or hold items.