Bulging disc vs. herniated disc: What’s the difference?

Bulging and herniated discs are both injuries caused to the vertebrae. Nobody wants to deal with these injuries on their own. This is where a pain management clinic can help. Herniated discs are more painful than a bulging disc but someone with a bulging disc would still benefit from the help of a pain management specialist.

What is a Disc?

A disc is a soft area that lies between each ​​vertebra in the spine. A disc’s purpose is to be a shock absorber for any damage caused to the spine. Each disc has a “shell” of hard cartilage as an outer layer with soft cartilage as the center of the disc. Over time, discs will show signs of wear and tear. They may dehydrate, or the cartilage may stiffen if they are worked too much throughout the years.

Bulging Discs

A bulging disc is where one of the discs in the spine becomes swelled outside its usual shape. In this state, the disc is not yet fully damaged, and the protective wall is still intact. The causes of a bulging disc are usually related to a disc getting overworked or age. Over time discs naturally push downward and degenerate. People may feel pain in the legs, buttocks, and back. It may even affect mobility. A bulging disc does not always mean the entire perimeter of the disc is bulging. Sometimes it may only be a quarter to half of the perimeter bulging. Bulging only includes the outer layer of hard cartilage. There are both long-term and short-term treatment options. Short-term treatment options include anti-inflammatory medication or steroid injections. Long-term options include an exercise program with a physical therapist. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.

Herniated Discs

A herniated disc occurs when the outer layer of hard cartilage on a disc becomes cracked. The inner softer cartilage of the disc can leak out,

causing acute pain and inflammation.  You may also hear herniated discs called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc. A herniated disc is more likely to cause pain because the herniated inner softer cartilage causes surrounding nerves and structures to become acutely irritated. Herniated discs usually come on abruptly, which is the opposite of how gradual a bulging disc is. Herniated discs have multiple causes and can sometimes be caused by injury, such as twisting the wrong way. Some people even wake up one day and notice this pain in their back. At times, this pain can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, oral steroids, steroid injection, or physical therapy. If those treatments are not effective, a microdiscectomy surgery may be necessary. 

When to Contact a Pain Management Clinic

Pain from a herniated or bulging disc can feel close to impossible to manage on your own. If it seems like the pain is unbearable, that is when you should contact pain management professionals. Attempting to fix your pain on your own can be dangerous and can be discouraging when the treatment is not effective. Seeing a pain management doctor, such as those at St Louis Pain Consultants, leads to proper care and they will be able to find the proper medication and treatment, so you can get back to living life as usual.

If you are living with chronic pain, seek help from St. Louis Pain Consultants.

We want to help remind you what life without pain feels like.

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