Disc Protrusion

Disc protrusion is a common type of spinal disc deterioration that causes neck and back pain, but can be referred to in other ways. This type of spinal condition often comes with age and if felt, can cause someone alarm; but, it’s a common type of spinal condition that can be successfully treated and avoided.

What is the Protrusion of Spine Discs?

A disc protrusion, also known as a bulging disc, is a common type of spine injury that affects intervertebral discs in the spinal column. These discs separate vertebrae and provide cushioned support, movement, and shock absorption to the spine. The disc itself is made of a tough outer ring that encloses a soft, almost jelly-like nucleus. Prior to the bulging, the disc’s nucleus is centered, but when it presses against the outer ring it begins to bulge. The bulging can occur around some or all of the disc.

Many people confuse this spine injury with a herniated disc, but they aren’t the same condition. A herniated disc is when the nucleus material has broken out of the outer ring and spreads into the spinal canal. While a protrusion can lead to a herniated disc, they aren’t the same type of injury.

Bulging Disc Symptoms and Risk Factors

A bulging disc has similar symptoms to sciatica, which is also caused by a herniated disc, such as back pain traveling down from the lowest part of your back to your legs. As the disc creates pressure points on the nearby nerves, it can cause several sensations ranging from mild tingling to numbness or severe pain, depending on the severity of the protrusion. Other symptoms of this type of herniation include:

    • Pain in the feet, thighs, lower spine, and buttocks
    • Difficulty walking or feeling impaired while lifting and holding items
    • Tingling or pain in the fingers, arms, hands, neck, or shoulders.

Each of these symptoms indicates where the disc is protruding and requires a medical evaluation as soon as possible. Symptoms of a protruding disc aren’t common till the point of herniation is beginning to be reached. This makes it difficult to identify until becoming more severe.

A disc protruding is preventable and a number of risk factors, as well as causes, have been identified:

    • A sedentary lifestyle
    • Smoking
    • Heavy lifting and continuous strain on the disc, or wear and tear
    • Injury or trauma to the spine
    • Obesity
    • High-contact sports and activities
    • Runners without proper orthopedic support in their shoes
    • Aging

As symptoms aren’t always present, the only way to diagnose a protruding disc is through a medical exam, which includes an X-ray and sometimes a CT or MRI scan.

Treatments and Spine Surgery

A protruding disc can heal on its own with proper medical supervision and home remedies, such as changing your posture and sleeping position to reduce symptoms. Also, addressing some of the cause factors listed above can help alleviate symptoms and help with correction. This should only be pursued at the recommendation of your doctor and after an examination. There are minimally invasive and non-surgical treatments as well, including:

    • Pain management
    • Physical therapy
    • Massage therapy
    • Exercise
    • Taping or bracing support
    • Heating pads
    • Ice packs

If the protruding disc has progressed to the point of a herniated disc, spine surgery may be recommended. These instances are rare but do occur depending on the severity of spine injury. To learn more about surgery for spinal conditions, we encourage you to explore our spine surgery page here.


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