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Herniated Disc v. Bulging Disc: What’s the Difference?

by in Chiropractic Care October 1, 2012

The bones, or vertebrae, that form the spine are separated by intervertebral discs (spongy, shock-absorbing cushions between each vertebra). These discs help with spinal flexibility and protection. However, when a disc is damaged, it can become herniated or bulging. Typical causes of herniated or bulging discs are age, injury, strain and poor posture.

A bulging disc is “contained,” meaning there are no tears or ruptures in the outer layer of the disc, and it is the most common disc injury. Discs are composed of a gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus and a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus. If the disc is bulging, it protrudes into the spinal canal but no fluid from the center leaks out.

A herniated disc is “non-contained,” meaning a tear or rupture has occurred. If a disc is herniated, some of the gel-like center will leak into the spinal canal, causing the disc to tear or break open. Also, herniated discs can begin as bulging, but with intense pressure on the outer wall of the disc and no reprieve, a rupture occurs. This is not as common as bulging, but is more painful.

Not every injured disc will produce symptoms or pain because it may not be pressing on a nerve. However, many herniated discs put pressure on nerve roots causing pain, numbness or weakness around the area of the disc. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to nerve root irritation which can cause pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and other disabling symptoms.

Spinal decompression is a current, effective type of physical therapy for a herniated or bulging disc. Usually done in a chiropractor’s office, non-surgical spinal decompression relieves pressure from the disc and nerve throughout a series of treatments where water, oxygen, and nutrient-rich fluids are diffused from the outside of the discs to the inside. Surgical spinal decompression is a more serious way to alleviate herniated disc pain caused by pinched nerves. Doctors remove a small portion of the bone over the nerve root and disc material from under the nerve root to help it properly heal.

Symptoms from a herniated or bulging disc usually subside within a few months if treated with proper chiropractic care. If these symptoms sound like something you are experiencing, call Apple Health & Wellness at 865-691-3155 and schedule an appointment today. Our team of chiropractors has decades of experience in dealing with issues such as bulging and herniated discs.

Apple Health & Wellness is a multidisciplinary clinic that emphasizes total body wellness and provides patients with innovative, proven solutions that help them achieve their healthcare goals. The Knoxville-based clinic integrates chiropractic, physical therapy and rehabilitation, medical care and podiatry to deliver the best patient outcomes.

One Comment
  1. I had no idea that bad posture could cause me to get a herniated disc! My dad had this problem, and he tells us how painful it was for him. I definitely don’t want to have to deal with something like a herniated or bulging disc, so I guess I should fix my posture! Thanks for the info.

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