Disc bulging occurs when one of the discs of the spine is damaged, usually from some type of traumatic injury. The spinal discs are located between each set of spinal vertebrae (bones of the spine), and their purpose is twofold. First of all, they act as ligaments, which hold the bones together. Secondly, they act as cushions or shock absorbers, preventing the bones from touching.
A spinal disc is composed of a firm outer layer (called the annulus fibrosus) and a jelly-like center (called the nucleus pulposus). I like to refer to them as jelly doughnuts, because of their structure – this also makes it easier to understand what happens when disc bulging occurs.
A bulging disc will occur when the outer layer tears, and the jelly center starts to push through this weak area. In other words, the jelly starts to push out of the doughnut.
What’s interesting about the discs of the spine is that they do not have the ability to feel pain. So, the question becomes – why is this condition so painful and debilitating?
Well, the true cause of the pain you experience with disc bulging is from the nerves of the spine. The nerves of the spine control everything in the body, and they exit the spine directly behind each spinal disc.
When a disc bulges, it usually applies pressure directly on at least one of the nerves of the spine, which is very painful. The pain, however, is usually the least of your worries with a bulging disc.
Because the nerves of the spine control everything in the body, there tend to be other complications that occur in the body. For example, if a person has a bulging disc in the neck, they may also experience arm pain, weakness or numbness, headaches, vision problems, chest pains, etc. All because the nerves of the neck control all of these other parts of the body.
It’s the same in the low back – a person with disc bulging in the low back will also tend to experience leg pain, weakness or numbness, bowel and bladder problems, problems walking, etc.
So, what can you do about this problem? Most doctors will recommend medications, pain injections (such as cortisone or epidurals), physical therapy, and surgery (as a last resort).
The success rates of these treatments are not excellent, primarily because their purpose is not to heal the disc – it is to numb the painful nerve.
Although that sounds good on the surface, if the disc doesn’t heal completely, the pain will inevitably return, becoming more and more stubborn with each episode of pain.
This makes disc bulging a very tricky condition to treat. Most people are under the impression that if there is no pain, there is no problem. This is simply not the case with a bulging disc.
It can take 2 – 5 years for a spinal disc to heal completely, and it is very important that you take the appropriate steps for complete healing. Here are 3 things you can do today to start the healing process.
First, I would recommend you use ice over the injured disc. Apply the ice directly to the skin (don’t place a towel or clothing between the ice and skin), and be sure to use real ice – don’t use frozen vegetables. Leave the ice on for 15 minutes or until you feel numbness in the area. Wait at least 1 hour before you repeat the ice treatment.
In order for ice to provide relief, you need to be consistent with it. Repeating the ice treatment multiple times throughout the day will provide the fastest results. You will typically experience relief after just a few treatments, but it can take a full 3 days before you experience significant relief.
The next tip I would recommend is that you adjust your sleeping position. First of all, make sure you sleep on your back or on your sides – sleeping on your stomach is generally not a good position for the spine.
If the disc bulging is occurring in your neck, it is important that you have a pillow that supports your neck properly. Use only one pillow, and make sure the pillow is not too thick – a thick pillow will force your head up, which puts a lot of pressure on the discs of the cervical spine.
If the disc bulging is occurring in your low back, place a pillow under your knees when you’re laying on your back, or between your knees when you’re laying on your sides. These positions will relieve pressure off the spine, and make it easier to sleep comfortably.
My final recommendation would be to bounce on a therapy ball. Therapy balls are those large balls you see in health clubs or physical therapy clinics. Simply sit on the ball and gently bounce up and down for about 5 minutes a day.
This activity pumps the discs of the spine, which forces toxins out of the discs and pumps new nutrition and oxygen into the discs for faster healing. This is a very simple exercise that will provide faster relief.