Back Pain


Bulging disc

What is it:
Bulging discs are a very common occurrence. It occurs when the tough protective outer layer (annulus) of the disc weakens and the high pressure from the central core of the disc protrudes through the disc’s tough protective outer layer. 90% of bulging discs occur in the lower back or lumbar area of the spine, with the most common seen between lumbar vertebrae L4 and L5.

Bulging discs do not always show symptoms and many people are unaware that they have a bulging disc. However, if the bulging disc is pushed against a nearby nerve then you may experience symptoms.

Causes/risk factors:
A bulging disc occurs through a weakness in the tough protective outer layer (annulus) or an increase of pressure from the central core of the disc. This can occur through:
* Microtrauma- repeated microtrauma such as poor posture both siting and standing causes stress to the spine. It can lead to overstretching and weakness of the tough protective outer layer (annulus), affecting the integrity of the disc.
* Unexpected loading- this could be through trauma such as a motor vehicle accident or lifting a high amount of load with a poor technique. Overloading the spine unexpectedly can result in tearing of the annulus fibres.
* Sedentary lifestyle- this can cause weakening of the muscles that support the spinal column.
* Ageing process


When a bulging disc is pushed against a nearby nerve the following symptoms may be experienced:
* Sciatica
* Pins and needles
* Hip, glute, leg, or feet pain (lower back bulging disc)
* Neck, arm or finger pain (cervical spine bulging disc)
* Numbness
* Weakness

Pain can be aggravated by:
* Sitting
* Coughing/sneezing
* Lifting
* Bending forward

It is best to consult with your GP or physiotherapist for the most effective management plan for a bulging disc.
Minor and moderate bulging discs can be addressed with conservative treatment such as:
* Massage
* Strengthening/stretching exercises
* Improving posture
* Anti-inflammatory medication

In more severe cases surgery may be required.