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What Is a Bulged Disc?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bulged disc is a common and painful disorder where the innermost nucleus of the disc in the spine applies pressure against the outer portion of the disc, forming a bubble or a bulge. With a bulged disc, the nucleus is still within the walls of the disc and the disc has not torn or ruptured; however, the pressure placed on the nerve root of the spine can cause extreme pain. A disc can occur in any portion of the spine, but it is most common in the lower back or the lumbar area.

There are two primary causes of a bulged disc – old age or an injury to the spine. The symptoms vary from person to person; however the main complaint is pain or numbness through the nerve area of the back. This occurs when the disc presses on the nerve roots. In some cases, there is little or no back pain – which means the disc is not pressing on the nerve root. There are two main things that can happen with a bulged disc: it can heal itself or be healed with minor treatment, or it can worsen, rupture, and require greater attention.

For pain associated with a bulged disc, rest is the best treatment plan –- medicines only work to mask the pain and will not cure the problem. When the disc area is not painful, light walking and other activities are recommended to build up the muscles. A heating pad and a warm shower are also useful remedies during times painful periods. Oftentimes, physical therapy is recommended. A good physical therapist may teach techniques to strengthen the muscles of the back, such as Pilates.

Luckily, in most cases, the disc will get better with time. Nearly half the people diagnosed with the disorder are healed in one month and nearly all are well in six months. Although it is relatively rare, it is possible that surgery will be required. But, before proceeding down the surgical route, a second opinion from another physician may be a good idea.

There are several things that can be done to prevent a bulged disc. For example, when lifting, lift with the legs – not the back. Simply bend the knees to a squat, then lift. Having good posture and following an exercise regime can also help prevent the condition. Lastly, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking will also decrease the likelihood of an injury to the disc.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon170241 — On Apr 25, 2011

I have suffered from tail bone pain for quite some time. No one could figure out why the tailbone was so tender and painful. I finally got referred to a specialist who confirmed my tailbone pain was in fact caused by a bulged disk in my lower back. I was given a epidural injection in the tailbone are which has relieved the pain for the most part. However my back hurts constantly.

By anon160280 — On Mar 15, 2011

i have disk bulging at l4-l5, s1. i have pain in left side while sitting. when i bend forward, i am getting pain over the leg (left side).

By anon157313 — On Mar 02, 2011

Can a bulging disc cause tailbone pain?

By anon133446 — On Dec 10, 2010

is bulged disc and herniated disc the same?

Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
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