What is a Bulging Disc?

When a disc is compressed from normal wear and tear over time, the soft jelly-like center squeezes into cracks in the outer layer. This makes the disc bulge out from between two bones in the spine (vertebrae).

Discs are rubbery cushions between the bones in the spine that absorb shock when you walk or run. They’re made of soft cartilage in the center surrounded by a layer of tough cartilage. Cartilage cushions and protects joints and prevents them from rubbing against each other.

A bulging disc isn’t usually painful unless the disc presses against a nearby nerve. It’s usually caused by normal wear and tear on the spine.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of a Bulging Disc?

Many people don’t even know they have a bulging disc. If you do have pain, it will usually be in the:

  • Butt, legs, and lower body for a bulging disc in the back.
  • Shoulders, arms, and upper body for a bulging disc in the neck.

The pain can sometimes cause muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling.

What Are the Treatments for a Bulging Disc?

Most bulging discs get better within a few weeks on their own or with treatments like:

  • Ice or heat to relieve pain.
  • Medicines:
    • Pain medicines: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen:
      • NSAIDs like ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and Motrin) help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
      • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) relieves pain.
  • Anti-seizure drugs to relieve pain from damaged nerves.
  • Physical therapy: stretching and strengthening exercises to increase flexibility and reduce pain.
  • Injection of steroids into the back or neck to relieve pain and increase function.
  • Chiropractic manipulation to relieve pain.

If other treatments don’t work, surgery may be an option. Common types of surgery for bulging disc are:

  • Surgery to remove the part of the disc causing the pain. (This is called discectomy).
  • Surgery to remove the disc and replace it with an artificial disc.