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The Difference Between Disc Bulge and Disc Herniation

Aug 29, 2019


The Discs in your spine act as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. They’re composed of an outer layer of tough cartilage that surrounds softer cartilage in the center. It may help to think of them as miniature jelly doughnuts, exactly the right size to fit between your vertebrae.

Over time, discs exhibit signs of wear and tear which leads to dehydration and stiffening of the outer cartilage.  This can lead to a bulging out of the disc over the edge of the vertebra. This bulging can happen in varying degrees, most of which involve at least a quarter of the disc, and up to the entire circumference of the disc.  It may help to think of the disc as a water balloon, when you squeeze one side the fluid bulges outward to the opposite side. In a disc bulge (protrusion) only the outer layer of cartilage is involved.  

A herniated disk, on the other hand, results when a crack in the tough outer layer of cartilage allows some of the softer inner cartilage to protrude out of the disc. Other names for herniated discs are ruptured discs or slipped discs, although the whole disc does not rupture or slip. Only the small area of the crack is affected.

Compared with a bulging disc, a herniated disc is more likely to cause pain because it generally protrudes farther and is more likely to irritate nerve roots which are located in close proximity to the spine. The irritation can be from direct compression of the nerve or, much more commonly, the herniation causes a painful inflammation of the nerve root.  Compression or irritation of the nerve root often presents as neck/back pain and radicular pain that travels down the arm or leg depending on the level of the involved disc.  


If an imaging test indicates that you have a herniated disc, that disc might not be the cause of your back pain. Many people have MRI evidence of herniated discs and have no back pain at all.  That being said, just because you have been diagnosed with a disc herniation or a disc bulge does not automatically mean you are a candidate for spine surgery. It is highly recommended to exhaust all conservative, non-invasive measures before opting for surgery.  

One of those conservative measures is chiropractic care.  Our care is designed to facilitate motion back into the spine while helping to remove stress and irritation to the surrounding areas including the nerve roots and soft tissue.  We combine this treatment with a core rehabilitation program to help build muscular support around the affected area. If you have questions regarding treatment for this condition please contact us at one of our offices.  We will gladly discuss our methods of treatment and how we can help you. 


Offices in:

Sharonville, OH

Wilmington, OH

Anderson, OH

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Rohlfs Chiropractic Care

Rohlfs Chiropractic Care of Wilmington