What is a disc bulge, and how can it be treated?

What are discs?

Discs are soft, rubbery pads found between the hard bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column. The spinal canal is a hollow space in the middle of the spinal column that contains the spinal cord and nerve roots. The discs between the vertebrae allow the back to flex or bend and also act as shock absorbers. Discs are composed of a thick outer ring of cartilage (annulus) and an inner gel-like substance (nucleus).

What is a disc bulge?

The intervertebral discs are spongy cushions found between the vertebrae in the spine. As we age, these discs dry out and harden, making them more prone to injury. The disc doesn’t actually move out of place, but the tough outer fibres of the spinal disc weaken, stretch or tear allowing the “jelly like centre” of the disc to bulge outwards. A disc bulge is the first step to more serious injuries like a disc herniation and then disc prolapse. A herniated disc may put pressure on or “pinch” the spinal nerves as they exit the spaces between the vertebrae. This will often cause initial symptoms of pain referred down the leg(s) or arm(s) depending on which spinal level the disc injury is at.


Is it serious?

Like many low back injuries, it is often best to have it assessed by a trained professional, to ensure that your injury is well managed. Ultimately if a mild disc injury is left untreated, the risk of further injury increases. Most importantly research shows that the prognosis for disc injuries is quite good when managed by a health practitioner. Nonetheless you cannot reverse the damage that is caused after experiencing a disc injury, so treatment and self-management are crucial to avoid prolonged pain or limitation.

What can Osteopathy do?

Like other types of back pain a disc bulge can be the result of prolonged overuse, or a single event of misuse. This is where ongoing Osteopathic management and maintenance treatments are important. Disc bulges are quite a common condition that is diagnosed and treated by Osteopaths. Normal treatment would include assessment, pain management, treatment and an exercise rehab program to help you return to normal function. The aim of Osteopathic management would be to reduce your pain during the acute inflammatory phase, treat the muscle spasm associated with the injury and then focus on mobilising and strengthening your back to help you return to normal function.

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