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What Causes Bulging Discs?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A number of things can cause bulging discs, ranging from degenerative spinal diseases to age. Some of the potential causes are within control of the individual, while others are not very easy to prevent, although taking good care of the body and keeping an eye on spinal health can minimize the risk of developing this condition. In the event that a bulging disc does occur, a doctor should be consulted to discuss treatment options, as spinal conditions can become problematic if they are ignored.

Doctors differentiate between bulging discs and herniated discs, but lay people often use the terms interchangeably. In both cases, the discs of soft material which normally cushion the vertebrae become displaced, leading to a protrusion of the disc from the spine. Herniated discs are characterized by a rupture of the tough outer membrane, which causes the soft material inside to bulge out, while bulging discs remain contained, but they are at risk for herniation. Some people have bulging discs and don't know it, while others experience pain as the disc presses on their nerves. Treatments for this condition vary, depending on their location and the severity.

One of the biggest risk factors for bulging discs is age. As people get older, their bodies lose elasticity, and the membrane which covers the soft material inside the disc may become weak, allowing the disc to bulge out. Older people are also more prone to tears in this membrane, also because of the loss of elasticity.

Degenerative diseases are another leading cause of this condition. A lot of strain is put on the spine throughout someone's lifetime, and if a degenerative disease emerges, as is common in elderly people, this can put the discs in danger of bulging or becoming herniated.

Strain on the back can lead to bulging discs. Some classic causes include stressful jobs which involve a lot of bending and stooping, any career which involves heavy lifting, and jobs in which people are on their feet for extended periods of time. In all of these cases, discs can become severe problems if people persist on working through the pain, as the strain can increase the bulge, or lead other discs to start bulging as well.

Height appears to be a risk factor, with taller people being more prone to bulging discs, and weight can also become an issue, as weight puts strain on the spine. Doing exercises which promote core strength and spinal flexibility seem to help with prevention, as does eating a healthy diet which is rich in vitamins and minerals, as this can prevent or slow the onset of a degenerative disease.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon998231 — On Apr 27, 2017

I have been recently preliminarily diagnosed with a bulging disc. I have an appointment with a neurosurgeon. I am 60, 20 pounds overweight and have had heart failure. Could all the diuretics that I was taking for congestive heart failure contributed to the lack of disc fluid?

By anon305924 — On Nov 28, 2012

I have degenerative disc disease. I've been taking treatments for the past five years or so. During those years, I've seen two different doctors. I decided to join my husband at his doctor, because he had a wide range of treatment equipment. I felt great relief from them.

This lasted for about a year or so until our doctor decided to move out into his own establishment. I was OK with it, but didn't know that the equipment was limited. He had one adjustment table and two therapy tables. Over time (past four months) I was not improving. During the adjustments I told him that it really hurt. He would tell me I would be fine, so I went along with it.

I could not put up with the pain any longer and asked for an X-ray of my lower back and left hip area. He did the X-ray and said he saw nothing, saying that it was probably inflammation. He recommended I go to my primary doctor for a steroid shot.

I went to my primary doctor and explained everything going on with my symptoms. He did not give a steroid shot. I told him that I had to ask my chiropractor to ease up on the pressure that he applied on my back several times and his reply again was that I would be be fine. My primary doctor said that this may have caused more aggravation than it was helping.

I have never had a bulging disc, only degenerative disease. The MRI results showed five bulging disks. I am scheduled to see a neurosurgeon in a few days.

By anon273354 — On Jun 06, 2012

In a civil tort case in Baltimore, a morbidly obese man (6'0", 350 pounds) claims his bulging disc was caused when his large pick-up was rear-ended by another vehicle. He was 28 and claims no prior injuries to his back. He says he was a mortgage broker and fairly sedentary, although he was a wrestler in high school.

A video taken at the scene shortly after the accident shows the plaintiff moving about without complaint. A police officer passes by him shouting to all involved (six vehicles in all were involved but only two people alleged injury at the scene police say) if there is anyone hurt. He does not respond. He claims he told police he had back pain but concedes he did not ask for medical assistance. He did not got to an emergency room. Three or four days after the incident he went to a walk-in health clinic where he was x-rayed (negative).

He has amassed $.75 million in medical bills even though he did not undergo surgery. Did this accident cause a bulging disc?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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