We see a number of patients who have been told they need spinal surgery due to a disc bulge and are exploring other treatment options before deciding on the way forward. A key concern for many people is whether their disc bulge will return.
So, what is a disc bulge? When does it matter? And will it come back?
What is a disc bulge?
Discs are an important part of the spine. With a thick coating but a soft centre, they absorb shock, allow movement, protect nerves and stop your bones rubbing together. You have 23 discs, each sandwiched between two spinal vertebrae in a spot that allows nerves to exit at each spinal level to carry sensation to your limbs.
Age or trauma can cause a disc to degenerate. A bulging disc spreads beyond its normal place like a teenager hogging the whole sofa. When that happens, the disc can press on your spinal nerves, causing symptoms like back or leg pain, numbness or pins and needles.
A bulging disc is also known as a slipped disc or a protruding disc. It can occur anywhere in your spine. Your doctor or physio should identify where your disc bulge is, usually pinpointing its location by naming the two vertebrae it sits between.
That could mean your:
- Cervical spine or neck – the vertebrae here are known as C1-7
- Thoracic spine or mid-back – the vertebrae here are known as T1-12
- Lumbar spine or lower back – the vertebrae here are known as L1-5. This is a very common area for bulging discs as the lower back supports the weight of the upper body.
Sometimes, a disc can herniate, which means that its thick coating splits open and the soft centre starts to leak out.
When does a bulging disc matter?
Though it sounds alarming, a bulging disc doesn’t necessarily require any action. Sometimes it’s an incidental finding, something discovered on an MRI being done for a different reason. One (old) study found that 52% of people without any back pain were found to have a bulging disc on MRI.
If a bulging disc isn’t causing any symptoms, then we may simply keep an eye on it.
A bulging disc that is causing pain or other symptoms does need attention, which may range from pain relief to spinal surgery.
We encourage you not to rush into surgery, though. The Brisbane Spine Clinic offers a second opinion to spinal surgery, providing informed, evidence-based advice on whether you might achieve a similar health gain without the risks of surgery.
How? By using conventional treatments instead.
How do you treat a bulging disc without surgery?
Non-surgical treatments for a bulging disc include:
- Time, which allows your body to heal
- Managing pain through techniques like massage, dry needling, taping or medication
- Strengthening your lower abs and core muscles to stabilise your back
- Stretches and remedial massage
Will a disc bulge come back?
To determine if your disc bulge will ever come back, we need to test out your nervous system and reflexes. We’ll also examine your spine thoroughly and consider other relevant factors like your age and overall health.
Once we have the full clinical picture, we can make an assessment of whether your disc bulge is likely to return. Then we can recommend a course of action to you.
How can The Brisbane Spine Clinic help?
If you have a disc bulge or disc herniation, then we encourage you to come and see us at The Brisbane Spine Clinic. Our spinal consultants can assess your condition and offer a second opinion to spinal surgery.
We can craft a tailored physiotherapy program that will help to ease your symptoms and strengthen your spine.
Please call 07 3841 3070 or book an appointment online.
All information is general in nature