Herniated Disc vs. Bulging Disc

Dec 8, 2021

You may have heard people suffering from back pain refer to a variety of problems with their discs- herniated, ruptured, bulging, slipped, and feel confused about all the things that can go wrong with this important part of the spine. While it’s true that the discs are subject to multiple types of injuries, understanding the differences between them can be critical to understanding how and why you’ve suffered an injury. If you are seeking car accident treatment, the guide below will help you better understand exactly what happened to your spine and what treatment you will need.

Understanding the Spine

Before diving into the details of disc injuries, it’s important to know the basics of the way the spine is built and how discs fit into this. The spine serves all essential functions in the human body, including support and structure for complex movements like bending or twisting. It also protects the spinal cord, a highway of nerve signals that enable you to move and feel.

The spine is comprised of 33 bones known as vertebrae. The spine is split into three sections- the neck or cervical spine, the upper and mid-back or thoracic spine, and the lower back or lumbar spine. Between each of these 33 vertebrae sits an intervertebral disc, which is made up of two components. The nucleus pulposus is a jelly-like inner corner of the disc, composed of 80% water and collagen that gives it the elasticity to work as a shock absorber. The annulus fibrosus is seven to fifteen layers of fiber that surround and protect the nucleus, providing traction and structural support.

When your spine moves, the discs adjust slightly to support the vertebrae.

Herniated Discs

When the soft nucleus of a disc is released through a tear in the outer layer, this is considered a herniation of the disc. The limited space in the spinal canal cannot accommodate this extra matter, leading it to compress a nerve root or the spinal cord itself. This may occur in the spinal canal, foramen, on each side of the disc, or even in multiple places. Herniated discs may also be called disc extrusion, slipped discs, or ruptured discs.

Discs tend to herniate as a result of degeneration that has occurred over time, and this degeneration most often occurs in the lumbar spine. As we age, the amount of water in the intervertebral discs decreases, making them less flexible and more likely to tear. Motions like twisting and lifting can also cause a herniation, especially when some degeneration has already occurred. Car accidents and sports injuries may also cause enough immediate trauma to herniate a healthy disc.

Bulging Discs

When the nucleus breaks through the outer fibers, a bulging in the disc will protrude outward while the outer layer remains intact. The section of the disc that is bulging can still enter the spinal canal and compress nerve roots- this is known as a bulging disc or a prolapsed disc.

Bulging discs may be classified by the form and severity of the protrusion. For example, asymmetric disc bulge involves 25% to 50% of the disc’s circumference, while circumferential disc bulge means the bulge extends beyond the entire disc’s circumference.

Disc degeneration can cause bulging discs in the same way as herniated discs, but bulging discs are usually more closely related to the back and neck strain that results from repetitive movements over time.

Treatment for Disc Injuries

Both herniated and bulging discs can be treated with proper chiropractic care, though the degree of recovery and method of treatment may vary.

Bulging discs usually resolve in 6 to 8 weeks with chiropractic adjustments, lifestyle changes to avoid inciting motions, and proper rest. In the rare case that symptoms persist, more invasive options like surgery could be considered.

Herniated discs are more likely to need surgical intervention but do not always require drastic measures. It may take several months for symptoms to resolve, even with proper chiropractic care and physical therapy. Re-herniation is also common, and it is recommended to take preventative measures that decrease risk in the future.

If you fear you have a herniated or bulging disc, seeking medical care early can help you avoid chronic pain or even surgery. Visit AICA Jonesboro to meet with a team of specialists who can identify the disc that is causing your pain and develop a personalized plan of care to help you find relief and meet your goals for recovery. Contact us today for your first consultation.


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