The medical world is notorious for vague terms and definitions. And, if you’re a patient, this is aggravating. For example, the medical terms bulging disc and herniated disc are used interchangeably. Patients with back pain are easily confused in regards to which one they have. If you’re one of these patients, this post will help you. Let’s jump right in:
Discs act as shock absorbers that hold the vertebrae perfectly in place and prevent bone-on-bone rubbing as the spine moves. Each disc has an outer and inner portion. The outer portion is made up of hard cartilage and the inner is made up of soft.
Illustration 1– The outer portion is known as the annulus fibrosus and the inner is known as the nucleus pulposus
There is a disc in-between all 33 of the spinal vertebrae.
A Bulging Disc
A bulging disc refers to a disc that has a protruding outer layer and this protrusion can occur on any portion of the disc. In some cases, the entire perimeter of the bulging disc protrudes. One of the most important things to know about a bulging disc is that it doesn’t always produce symptoms. In fact, many people have a bulging disc and don’t even know it. This is largely what separates it from a herniated disc.
A Herniated Disc
A herniated disc refers to a disc that has a cracked outer layer that disturbs the inner layer space. Herniated discs are much more likely to “slip” into the spinal canal and pinch the spinal cord. When this happens, the following symptoms can be seen in the spine and extremities:
In many circumstances, these symptoms are severe enough that patients need to be seen by a spine specialist. An examination and radiological studies, such as x-rays and an MRI scan, will show just how bad the disc has herniated and what treatment measures will effectively eliminate symptoms.
Contacting a Spine Specialist
You now know the difference between a bulging disc and a herniated disc. If you’re experiencing back pain or neck pain (even if you don’t know what’s causing it), please call us to schedule an appointment. For those suffering from chronic back or neck pain due to conditions such as a Herniated Disc, the Spine Team at Plymouth Bay Orthopedic Associates consists of Physical Therapists, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialists and Board Certified Orthopedic Spine Surgeons. Our goal is to design a treatment plan customized to your lifestyle and goals and we use the latest advancements in both non-surgical and Minimally Invasive spine care. We have offices located in both Duxbury and Sandwich, MA. Contact us today to schedule a consult!