Signs You Have A Bulging Disc

Oct 6, 2021Blog Post, Chiropractic, Low Back Pain


In a recent interview with Glamour magazine, Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston spoke about the second season of “The Morning Show” streaming series produced for the Apple TV network. Aniston has been busy not just with “The Morning Show” but also with other projects such as the “Friends” reunion special, which earned her an Emmy nomination. For the new season of the streaming series, Aniston was featured in a scene that evokes memories of the Rocky Balboa film franchise when the boxer is chopping wood against a snowy backdrop, and she confessed that this was an uncomfortable shoot because she was suffering from a bulging disc, so there was a need for widescreen shots using a stunt double.

According to Aniston, the bulging disc was the result of an auto accident she endured while driving during rush hour on the notorious 405 freeway of Southern California. The actress was rear-ended by a driver who somehow managed to get up to 55 MPH in the midst of a traffic jam. At some point, Aniston underwent an epidural procedure to alleviate the painful disc; she is all healed now, but she confessed that using a stand-in for her wood chopping scene was necessary because the pain left her weakened to the point of not being able to swing the axe more than a couple of times.

A bulging disc is a spinal condition that may involve inflammation, leakage, tearing, and even a hernia. This condition can occur just about anywhere along the spine, and it may not necessarily cause localized pain; you can develop a bulging disc from inadequate posture, a sports injury, a road traffic accident such as the one Aniston endured, which left her with a 9mm bulge, or even an extreme coughing fit. This measurement may not sound like much, and it really isn’t from an anatomical point of view as long as it can heal quickly on its own, but this is not always the case.

The best way to describe a bulging disc condition is to compare it to the appearance of a tennis ball in the middle of your back. The ball may be solid, but it is surrounded by a rubbery wall of sorts that separates it from your spinal nerve. When you walk or turn your head, the rubbery part can move around with you and, eventually, it will pinch the nerve. In a healthy individual, the nerve is protected by this “wall,” and it is only when this rubbery part becomes too large that you will experience pain. The bulging disc is not the same thing as a herniated disc, which is when a piece of disc material actually pokes through the wall. If your bulging disc stays in one place, it will usually heal with rest, hot compresses, and ice packs, and you may never have to visit a doctor. However, if the material breaks through the wall into your spinal canal and compresses a nerve, you may experience a lot of pain that doesn’t respond well to traditional treatments.

As previously mentioned, the pain and discomfort caused by a bulging disc will not manifest itself on the precise area where the inflammation, which in reality is caused by leakage, takes place. You could have a bulge in one of the six discs that comprise your cervical section and feel the pain that radiates down to your lower back. Once this condition deteriorates to a herniation stage, it would not be unusual to find patients who complain of pain in their left or right foot despite the problem being located somewhere in the lower back.

Bulging discs may cause various symptoms that patients may experience differently with diverse ranges of intensity, but we can narrow them down to four:

  • Unusual lower back pain.
  • Radiating pain that travels down to one leg.
  • Pain that is triggered by certain actions.
  • Pain felt only when sitting down.

Before we go into detail for the purpose of understanding whether these symptoms are better, we should point out what causes the bulging. Our discs are not flat; they are spongy because they are meant to prevent friction between vertebrae, and they have a nucleus plus an outer ring. The nucleus is filled with gel-like tissue that can become compressed to the point of pushing out and against the ring. The nucleus flattens while the outer ring bulges out and puts pressure on the roots of nerve clusters. When this condition worsens into a hernia, we are looking at the gel leaking out of the disc because of decreased tissue quality or rupture. It only takes about 3 mm for a bulge to become painful; anything smaller may not be felt at all. Bulging discs protrude more than herniated ones, but the pain they generate is typically more manageable.

Feeling Strange Lower Back Pain

One thing you will notice when suffering from a bulging disc is that the kind of pain felt on your lower back is unlike anything you may have felt before. It is different from the myalgia or muscle pain that you feel after physical strain. Instead of feeling pressure, the lower back pain is almost like a burning feeling or an unusual irritation. Since the bulging does not happen all at once, the pain may not be too intense in the beginning, so what you may experience could be similar to gradually increasing warmth.

Radiating Pain

You may have heard about sciatica, a condition that can be quite painful, being mostly related to a herniated disc. The reality of sciatica is that it can start out as a bulging disc, and you will know this is the case when the pain starts radiating down the middle of the buttocks and towards the lower extremities. In addition to the unusual pain described above, there may be a direct compression effect that presses down on the nerve root, but the signal will travel down to your legs, and it may be accompanied by a strange tingling sensation that combines pain with tickling.

Activities That Trigger Intense Pain

The persistent discomfort caused by bulging discs usually intensifies into sharp and sudden pain when you do the following:

  • Bending down at the waist.
  • Putting your back into a pushing action such as moving furniture around.
  • Coughing.
  • Lifting heavier objects.

The difference between the nagging pain and its intense counterpart can also be felt when you stand up from a sitting position that features a slouching posture. If your condition already radiates neuropathic signals down your leg, you may feel pain when squatting down, but not on your lower back.

It Only Hurts When You Sit Down

This is by far the most telling sign that you have a bulging disc. You may not realize this, but the act of sitting down can wreak havoc on your spine unless you consciously apply proper posture or improve it through ergonomics. The pressure that your spinal discs endure while sitting is greater than when you carry weight around. Even a mother who carries a toddler around all the time does not put so much pressure on her lower back as when she sits down, particularly if she is not mindful of posture.

If you have a bulging disc that has not yet become problematic, chances are that you will only start feeling it when sitting down. At this point, your options include getting things checked out by a chiropractor in order to determine the severity and start a treatment plan before things deteriorate; you certainly do not want to risk getting a herniated disc, so it is in your best interest to address the issue as soon as possible. Spinal alignment sessions are optimal for many patients, but other aspects of chiropractic care such as physical therapy may also work in this regard.

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