Bulged Disc vs. Herniated Disc: What’s the Difference?

One-half of all Americans suffer from some back pain, which adds up to nearly 300 million days of work missed.

Back pain is a broad term, but in many cases, the cause is the spine, most notably, the discs.

Two common problems with the discs in your spine are bulged discs and herniated discs. But what’s the difference between the two, and how can you tell?

Let’s take a look at these two ailments.

What Is a Disc?

Your spine is a fantastic part of your body. It allows for immense flexibility, gives our bodies form, and protects our spinal cord that’s rich with nerves.

The vertebrae are made up of bones, and the discs are cushions between each of the vertebrae. Discs have two parts. The first is the inner layer called the nucleus pulposus. In addition, the outer layer called the annulus fibrosus, which is tough.

As you age, discs become hard and less flexible, resulting in a variety of issues that potentially cause significant pain and less mobility. Even in the winter months, November to February, a drop in temperature can open up spine strains, leading to more inflammation and pain.

What Is a Bulged Disc?

A bulging disc occurs slowly over time, known as a degenerative disease. The disc bulges out, causing pain when you walk, or even in other parts of your body such as chest or abdomen. This is because as the disc bulges out, it will affect the part of the nerves that connect to a portion of the body.

Bulging discs are not a cause for alarm. Both young and old can experience them, yet symptoms can include muscle weakness, tingling, changes in urination, and some cases paralysis.

What Is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is similar to a bulging disc but with one distinct difference – it involves the center part of the disc, not just the outside.

A disc becomes herniated due to a crack in the outer layer of the disc. This allows the inner part to protrude out. Herniated discs (otherwise known as ruptured or slipped discs), often happen quickly and are usually more painful because it impacts more nerves and extends farther than a bulging disc.

How Does A Doctor Diagnose A Herniated or Bulging Disc?

The most common way to diagnose a painful disc is by MRI. In some cases, doctors will order an x-ray, but it’s not nearly as accurate as an MRI. If neither of those provides answers, the doctor may order a CT scan to gather more information.

Treatments for Herniated Disc And Bulging Disc

Many methods are available to treat disc problems in the spine. Typically, pain medications, therapy, and the wait-and-see approach work well for many people, and budging and herniated discs can resolve in a matter of weeks.

In more severe cases, surgery is considered to relieve pressure from the nerves. Surgery is usually the last resort if the pain continues to worsen.

Banish Back Pain

Bulged discs and herniated discs are both painful but treatable. If you’re suffering from either, and need relief, contact our office today to see how we help you get your life back.

Florida Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Anthony P. Moreno received his Bachelor’s and Medical degrees from the University of Florida, where he graduated with honors. After that, he completed his orthopedic residency at Jackson Memorial Medical Center/University of Miami. Dr. Moreno has also completed a Spine Surgery Fellowship at Hahnemann/Penn. As a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Moreno is also a member of the American College of Spine Surgery and speaker. For instance, he has done many presentations around the world on spinal surgical techniques. His knowledge and expertise can help with any of the most complex spinal cases. Read more about Dr. Moreno’s education, certification and credentials here.