How does a Bulging Disc Occur?

A bulging disc occurs when the fluid-filled disk in between vertebrae shifts out of place.
Some studies suggest a link between smoking and the likelihood of a bulging disc.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 July 2014
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A number of things can cause a bulging disc to occur. Understanding the cause can sometimes be an important part of the treatment plan, because the patient should take steps to reduce the risk of recurrence or additional strain. Knowing the potential causes of bulging and herniated discs can also help people avoid activities which could threaten their spinal health.

The terms “bulging disc” and “herniated disc” are often used interchangeably. In both cases, the condition is characterized by a problem with the spongy discs which act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae. Normally, the discs are aligned with the spine, but sometimes the jellylike fluid in the discs presses against the outer walls from the inside, causing a disc to bulge out from between two vertebrae. This condition is sometimes accompanied with significant pain, because the bulging disc can start to press on the nerves of the spine. In the case of herniated discs, the outer casing of the disc actually splits, causing the fluid inside to leak.

Age is one of the leading causes for bulging discs. As people age, their tissues lose elasticity, and this loss can cause the tough outer envelope of the disc to weaken, allowing the fluid inside to bulge. Bulging discs associated with age may also be accompanied by degenerative conditions like osteoporosis, which weaken the spine, making it more susceptible to developing bulging discs.

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The risk of developing a bulging disc can be increased by smoking, according to some studies, and taller individuals also seem to be more prone to bulging discs. Weight is also a factor, with people of heavier weight naturally putting more pressure on their discs. People with strenuous jobs are also more likely to develop bulging discs, especially if they do a lot of heavy lifting or bending.

Strain can cause a torn annulus, tearing the outer layer of the disc and causing it to bulge. Spinal trauma and degenerative diseases can also lead to a bulging disc. However, many people develop bulging discs and are entirely unaware of it in the early stages, until the bulge protrudes enough to start putting pressure on the nerves. Pain from a bulging disc may also be dismissed as pain from general spinal strain, which is one reason why it is a good idea to seek medical attention for persistent back pain.

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anon298457
Post 30

All I want to know is if you fall six feet into a crawlspace and hit your neck on the way down, as well as the back, shoulder and the back of my head, can it cause minor disc bulging? The pain is tolerable on most days but other days it isn't.

anon294055
Post 28

I'm 47 years old, I had a car accident twice last year four days apart. The second one the car was a write off. I was rear ended on both occasions.

I used to have very mild back pain before the accident, and the MRI showed two minor bulged discs at L4,L5. Now my back hurts every day. I had to stop working and closed my home cleaning business. My lower back hurts, left hip, left butt, all they way down to my left knee. Sometimes when I need to go on, my knee can't get up without lots of pain.

I get spasms and when I go to sleep, I feel my leg getting really hot and having stabbing pains. My right arm goes numb and heavy, my head hurts a lot on that side and there is what the neurologist described as a swollen muscle.

He said the MRI from the head and neck were normal, except for some discs in the neck that were not too good. The doctors are not given to much explanation except medication and more medication and more and more MRIs. Please help. -- Loretta

anon270257
Post 26

I'm 44 this year. Five years ago i was in a car accident. I have a torn disk, herniated disk and problems with facet joints. I have had numb hands and feet since. I also sometimes lose my balance and go backside up or bang into doorways.

I don't want surgery. I've met people who had surgery and they're usually worse 18 months after surgery so I plod along a day at a time.

I even a got payout from the insurance company, but I'd give it all back to be like I was before the accident.

iraina77
Post 25

I got hurt on my job on in mid-March and recently found out I have a bulging disc and I am in constant pain.

I was put on light duty and returned to work for only two days and was in pain. I was unable to stand for a long period of time without being in pain. Can I ask my specialist to give me a note stating I can't return to work until I am pain free? I have a hard time doing my daily things and taking care of four children, let alone standing at work for eight hours. Even though I tried to sit as much as possible it still did not help any at all.

I just received a phone call from the corporate office that handles workman's comp and she stated that I need to get some sort of note stating that I can't stand for a long period of time. My note now says light duty and 10 minute breaks every hour to sit (even though that did not help) or she was going to have to replace me and stop my benefits.

I feel this is not fair. I hurt myself at work. I am in pain and all I want is to be pain free and go on with my activities. I used to do before all of this. What are my options? I don't understand how this all works.

anon242527
Post 23

I fell in a grocery store three months ago and found out I have two bulging discs in my lower back, the pain at first was unbearable. Now I have to be careful lifting anything, overextending, etc. or it comes back with a vengeance. I'm on pain meds and I go to a massage therapist already since I have RA and fibromyalgia. Now I'm in a lawsuit with where I fell. It's more stress than I really need.

anon193716
Post 22

I had neck surgery in late June and my back and neck feel better. The doctor the worker's comp people sent me to told me there was nothing wrong with me for six months.

I could hardly walk, I could not get in and out of bed without help, I would drive somewhere and then I couldn't get out of the car. I never could make it to the bathroom no matter how close it was. I got me a lawyer, and asked him to request a change in my doctor and that's when we find out I was really hurt and needed to have surgery soon or I would not be able to walk!

So please, find another doctor and get as many opinions as you can and ask a lot of questions. Look at your x-rays, mri and other film and make sure they're really yours because mine were someone else's and that caused me a year of pain and more damage to my nerves, plus a lot of stress on my family.

anon170469
Post 21

I am 44. I have worked health care for 20+ years. I have Fibromyalgia, bursitis in both hips and right elbow. I was having severe hip pain, tail bone and right knee pain to the point of an unbalanced walk. I cannot lay on either hip to sleep.

Finally with x rays and MRI I can add degenerative disc disease, arthritis and five bulging discs to my list. I work full time and still run my household and take care of my mother. it is very painful and I cry every day, but I do stretches every day, all day long, which helped a lot. My frame of mind is I'm too young for this and will fight it all the way. The only med I take is a vicodin once in awhile. I am looking at other choices and also massage therapy. --Marnie

anon163447
Post 20

I'm a 32 year old federal agent who got injured at work. I have two bulging discs which are pinching nerves when i sit down.

The doctor was quick to recommend surgery but many coworkers advised me to seek other opinions. Listen to your friends they know (sometimes). Anyhow, this other doctor is doing therapy. So far, so good.

anon116010
Post 19

I have four bulging discs in my neck and pain in my right shoulder and neck. I am a CNA and for the last eight years have had to lift people up off the floor without the use of a gait belt (because I work in assisted living our social worker said we couldn't use gait belts) pull lots of laundry out of the washer and use a 24 pounds vacuum cleaner. But the doctor thinks I'm trying to screw the insurance company. Help. cb

anon114391
Post 18

I am 35 years old and have never had any type of back problems whatsoever. one day about a month ago, I took my son to toys r us for his birthday shopping. I had to use the restroom really bad. I do not usually use public restrooms, but I did. The toilet wasn't bolted to the floor and when I went to sit down the toilet moved to one side and I fell to the other, hitting my lower back on the front of the toilet itself.

I have had extreme back pain ever since, with shooting pains down the back of my right leg, followed by a numbing sensation into my toes. Very painful.

I had an MRI today and just found out that I have a bulging disc in my lower lumbar. I am seeing a surgeon tomorrow as it is so bad they are thinning surgery is my only answer! I have never felt pain this badly before. No pain meds are helping one bit. Childbirth was a breeze compared to the pain I'm feeling right now. Good luck to all who are feeling like I am. I wouldn't wish this on anyone!

anon111488
Post 17

I've read all of your posts. I'm a 28 year old woman and I have the same problem. I also have sciatica and muscle spasms in the back of my legs which is very painful. it's like a tight ball at the back of my leg. I'm on pain killers and I can't walk far at all. my legs give way on me. I have to have 24 hour care.

this has smashed my dreams to become a runner.

My husband can't work because he cares for me. I've had this problem for nine years, It's very painful. I suffer with a mental heath problem because of all of the pain I'm in and because of my bad past.

I'm also on antidepressants. I'm on the sick and I've just put in for dla for the fourth time.

I had an mri scan and my husband just got into college but because he's doing more than 16 hours a day it affects our benefits. so how does our mp expect us to work if he can't go to college to get a degree so he can work? I wish you all the best with the pain.

anon110826
Post 16

I'm a 31 year old female who had her chair moved out from behind me at work as a joke few months ago, and landed hard on concrete floor. I just found out I have two bulging disc and pinched nerves, so I feel the pain all of you guys are having. I have worked since I was 15, and as of right now I can't. I'm very stressed out along with the pain. Good luck to everyone with these problems.

daniellel
Post 15

Bulging and herniated discs are pretty common. Aside from surgery, have you guys taken a look at any natural techniques? There's good information online that provides information on healing pain from bulging discs and other back problems without surgery.

anon90672
Post 14

i have a bulging disc in my lower back and my neck. i start to feel dizzy, pins and needles. i had an MRI on the brain and it shows there are focal signal abnormalities in the posterior fossa on the T1 weighted images, which are likely artifactual. what does that means?

anon88514
Post 13

I have been in pain for six years now. The doctors have given me blood tests and x-rays, and with a recent ct scan they have found a protruding disc.

I was wondering if I should ask for an MRI since they told me it is probably a fluke it was found, and they tell me that the pain I experience is do to fibromyalgia which frustrates me because all my symptoms are exactly like the disc protrusion they just found. I was wondering if a disc protrusion in your right side can also give you symptoms in your left? --frustrated

anon87937
Post 12

Medicine that works for a bulging disc. I am 32 years old and was diagnosed with a bulging disc on c4. After taking a variety of pain medications, the only thing that has worked for the pain has been Lyrica. For anyone suffering with pain look into this medicine. It can help alleviate the nerve pain.

anon87805
Post 11

I'm 13 and i was in a car accident -- that is how mine occurred. the pain can be unbearable at times. I have had to stop playing the sports i enjoy and i should get released back to regular activities even though it has been almost a year since it happened.

They're not funny but you eventually learn to deal with the pain because pain relievers don't work for it, generally at least for me. I've missed school because of pain and i can't move sometimes. It's quite awful. it's even hard to stand for long periods at times. But life goes on.

anon85663
Post 10

I am 56 years old and I took a job that was very physical and that was the first time I have ever worked a physical job in my life. I started having sharp pains in the right side of my neck, then it moved to the left side and one day while I was at work, the pain hit me so hard. I had pain in my ear and my left eye was bloodshot.

I have had physical therapy, morphine shots, pain medications and muscle relaxers. I was even prescribed anti depressant meds, had two epidurals and cortisone shots and now my doctor wants to try Botox because he believes my muscles are frozen in my neck.

I am a little afraid of the treatment so I don't know what I'm going to do. I also have pain in my lower back and hip, even in my butt cheek and down my legs and feet and I had to buy myself a cane for walking support.

So I guess I just need to wrap it up and take what's coming my way and deal with it.

anon81026
Post 9

well it's been almost two years here with a lot of pain from my lower back into my legs and feet, sometimes left arm as my hands going numb at times. I don't know why. After having two mris, I found out that i have l3, l4 severe degenerative facet joints changes with marked hypertrophy of the ligamentum flavum, along with l4,l5 si disk extrusions and bulging of the l5 with spinal stenosis and arthritis throughout my back!

I have had two epidural injections with meds to calm the area, only to be worse off than i was before having this done!

i am now walking with the aid of crutches and on a daily dose of morphine and other meds. to calm the nerve endings! I have discussed sugery but not too sure that would even help so please advise me as to what are my options if any?

I am thinking my only option now is to apply for disability but not what i can live for as i was a very active person and just sold off my harley as of last week!

Is this what we have to look for as we get older? i can relate to you all and wish you the best in your recovery if possible at all.

"thinking live life a day at a time cause you never know when it's your last."

anon77981
Post 8

I had three herniated discs that took years to diagnose because docs just did x-rays. I finally changed my doctor got an MRI and found the herniations. I didn't want to do surgery and did some serious investigation. I found that DRS machine was what I was going to try.

It is a machine that actually puts traction on your back for 30ish minutes. After two years of pain every day, in three days of this machine pulling on my back, I was out of pain! I did this four times a week for four weeks and I had to wear a back brace during this time.

After that I did rehab for a month. It worked well for me. Good luck, everyone.

anon69031
Post 7

I have DDD and refuse to just live with the pain. Physical therapy and chiropractic, probably trigger point "cane", acupuncture, also "Tai Chi for Arthritis" and certain yoga moves.

However mine is severe enough to also consider injections. Some orthos will use Synvisc, an artificial HGH injected into the disc for 3-6 months of relief, but the other idea is to get your body normalized to produce its own HGH. I'm trying HGH Surge as I feel it's the best and not expensive.

Also, exercise on an empty stomach to produce more HGH. Find a BHRT doc to check on and balance hormone levels, as low estrogen can cause lots of lost joints! Avoid toxins since they disrupt hormones.

Last, a Doctor Dunn in Miami actually injects real HGH (or is it IGF-1, the growth factor from it) and is supposed to be regrowing the actual disc! Check into it. Watch for clinical trials of some of this expensive stuff!

anon67669
Post 6

Hi Dave! I am a 35 year old female with a situation like yours. I am looking into legal consult due to years of lifting adults with special needs. I don't trust doctors much. I', trying injections before i attempt surgery. Feedback from all welcomed!

anon59494
Post 5

my daughter has the same problem. she has just been told she has a bulging disc. she is only 14 and is in a lot of pain, but the neurosurgeon won't operate because of her age. he said the risk is too high, and having the operation could actually make things worse.

anon58457
Post 4

my name is dave. i am 26 and i have been diagnosed with bulging discs. i have a job where i bend a lot i have been dealing with it for five years. the doctors told me nothing was wrong with me at hospitals until i got a family doctor. he did an mri and found bulging disc and said i should have surgery! i am not sure. feed back would be nice thank you!

anon52081
Post 3

Hello my name is Skylar and i have curvature of my lower spine, along with bulging discs in my lower spine. This causes me a great deal of pain not only in my lower spine but also in my legs as well.

I started having this trouble about a year and a half ago. I was constantly missing school because there were times where in the morning i couldn't even get out of bed. I told my doctors all the time about my troubles but all they would do was just give me some pills and tell me to take them and that's all. It wasn't until just about two months ago that they finally started looking into it but by that time it was too late because as soon as i turned 18 my insurance dropped me. so now i do not have any insurance nor can i afford it.

I was told that i would have to have surgery but the day i found out what was causing all my pain and how severe it was and that i would have to have surgery to fix it my insurance was dropped and now i have to live with this. I am 19, very athletic, 6 feet tall and weigh 168 pounds and i need some one who can tell me what i can do.

anon48450
Post 2

Sounds exactly like my early symptoms. Especially your statement that you had "a very tired feeling like I cannot walk another step." Early on with my trouble I often used that exact same description - I found if I forced myself to keep walking I would get that same "tired feeling in my back and legs" as if they would lock up and quit on me from exhaustion if I tried to force one more step. And I had my condition for almost 10 years - saw an orthopedic specialist, a neurologist, a rheumatologist, and my family doctor every 3 months, and suffered two incidents of temporary paralysis for about 20 minutes each time of my left leg and foot. When I finally woke up one morning and had such agony in my left thigh, left groin area and left hip into my lower left back so severe that I was literally screaming for someone to call an ambulance, I demanded an xray or ct scan or mri to prove to me that there was nothing there - my family doctor finally ordered a simple half hour mri that finally showed two huge, bulging disks compressing all the nerves in the entire area, and I had my diagnosis finally and was told permanent paralysis or death were "imminent" because lack of diagnosis and treatment put me at the point of dire emergency with my condition. So much for the level of health care provider expertise in this country. It is benign neglect. If an obvious problem doesn't jump out at them and hit them in the face, doctors in U.S. pass you over and pass you on and ignore you when they should be more concerned and ramping up pursuit of diagnosis. Instead they wait until the patient comes back ten years later, paralyzed and near death - and then they can tell you what you have. No kidding - but I could do that without a medical degree by that point too! I think you have bulging disk in its early stage and it won't show up except on the most sophisticated tests and by a doctor intent on finding it. Tell him the survival of his medical practice is dependent on him finding and making an early and correct diagnosis and watch what will happen - you'll be cured in half the time. But doctors are the only people allowed to get away with nonperformance in this country and still get to keep their jobs. They don't get fired. Try working in a factory with that rate of performance on the job. You won't still have your job 10 years later. But your doctor will have his - and double the patients to boot!

barbarafalk
Post 1

I cannot find a Doctor who can help me. For the past year I have been having trouble walking. My thigh muscles feel like they are very weak and sometimes it is an effort to walk distances. I don't have pain just a very tired feeling like I cannot walk another step. My balance is not the greatest either. I have had an MRI of the brain and an MRI of the spine, nerve test and I lost count of how many blood test's.

I have been to two neurologists who obviously were not sharpest students in their class, as they cannot diagnose me. I have a stack of bills that are growing from this group of sorry Doctors. One thing that I did find out is that I have a moderator bulging disc. I am hoping this could be my problem all along. I would welcome any feedback.

Otherwise I am healthy, I am 58 years old have always been healthy and active. I am 5'8 and weigh 155lbs. I take no medication and stopped smoking 6 months ago. All I need is one on the ball Doctor to diagnose me. Anybody know one?

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