What is a Bulging Disc and How Can it Be Prevented?

When we think of spraining ligaments or joints we usually think of the ankle or wrist. In reality, most neck and back pain is actually a sprain injury to the posterior wall of one or more spinal discs.

Whether this occurs from an injury or trauma is a result of poor habits that have compounded over time, the result is weakness in the disc’s annular fibers, causing it to bulge or herniate.

Most often, people feel this pain as stiffness or achiness and dismiss it as muscular. However, most of the time the pain you feel in these cases isn’t due to muscle soreness.

Here are a few facts to ponder:

  • Over 80% of neck and back pain demonstrates characteristics of disc bulges
  • 50% of healthy young adults have at least one level of disc degeneration/ bulging.
  • 9 out of 10 work related back injuries involve flexion or a combination of flexion and rotation – the most vulnerable positions for a disc.
  • In the lumbar spine, the intervertebral disc mechanism is responsible for the production of symptoms in as many at 95% of patients.

The disc is the source of pain in up to 90% of overall neck and back pain conditions. This can be mild – causing general tightness and achiness – to severe – unrelenting pain that radiates down the arms and legs, numbness and tingling, or even muscle atrophy or weakness.

The good news is that most disc bulges and herniations can be resolved with the right treatment plan, which includes specific spinal corrections and disc-reducing exercises.

These exercises are designed to reposition the spinal segments and disc, allowing the posterior wall and fibers to tighten up and heal. General stretching and strengthening is not the answer and can make the problem worse.

How does a disc bulge in the first place?

The spine is designed to be flexible. It allows us to flex, extend, rotate and laterally bend in all directions. It’s made up of 25 movable bones called vertebra, broken up into 4 sections, the cervical (neck) 7, thoracic 12, lumbar 5 and sacral 1.

The discs separate each of these spinal segments. They are tough, dense cartilaginous tissue. The outside of the disc is composed of intercrossing fibers called annular fibers. These fibers look like the outside of a woven basket.

Deep within the disc is a nucleus pulposus, which is a jelly-like substance, kind of like the jelly in a donut. Surrounding the spinal column over the bones and discs are ligaments – one on the front called the anterior longitudinal ligament and one on the back called the posterior longitudinal ligament. Like all ligaments in the body, these ligaments can also experience sprain injuries.

When we bend and flex our spine, the disc material can move. The jelly inside the disc will displace in the opposite direction of spinal movement. For example when you flex forward, this material is pushed backwards toward the spinal cord. Doing this every so often is nothing to worry about, but flexing the spine all day, everyday will stretch and wear down the posterior spinal ligaments. When this wall is stretched, it allows the disc material to bulge outward towards the spinal canal and nerves. Since the wall is compromised and weakened, the disc material can’t go back in. If the bulge is large enough, it will compress the spinal nerve in that area, causing pain and even intense, radiating pain, numbness and tingling into the extremity. If the disc isn’t treated, it can lead to muscle weakness and atrophy.

Spending most of your day in a state of spinal flexion is the leading cause of disc bulging and herniation.

How many times per day do we flex our spine?

We are living in a world where our body is in a constant state of flexion. We sit at a desk flexing our hips and lumbar spine while at the same time flexing our neck as we work on our computer. We sit in our car driving to and from work with our hips and low back in a flexed position. We look down at our phone, tablet or laptop with our neck in a forward flexed position.

It’s no wonder our normal everyday life is wearing out our spines! Patients that are “career sitters” have just as much disc and spinal damage as those that have done manual labor their whole life.

Researchers published a study in the European Spine Journal that looked at 208 non-symptomatic volunteers during their daily living over a 24 hour period. They wore sensor strips on their lumbar spine to measure sagittal (forward and backward) spinal movements. Researchers found that the volunteers reached full spinal flexion on average 50 times per day and reached full spinal extension 0 times per day.

Prevention of a Bulging Disc is Key!

If it’s impossible for you to avoid some of the flexing movements that can lead to a bulging disc, there are some key ways to prevent the injury even while at your desk job.

  • Exercise regularly. Strengthening the trunk muscles helps stabilize and support your spine.
  • Keep good posture. Remind yourself to keep your back straight and in a neutral position, especially when sitting at your desk for long periods.
  • Take breaks to avoid sitting for hours on end, and remember the old adage: lift heavy objects with your legs, not with your back!

Get Relief from Bulging Disc Pain by Seeing Your Chiropractor in Ann Arbor

If you’re experiencing a bulging disc, you know the pain can disrupt your day and keep you from doing the things you love.

If you’re having arm or leg pain, numbness or tingling, or even noticing weakness in your arms or legs, Pivotal Chiropractic can help. Remember: you could have a herniated or bulging disc without showing symptoms!

Regular adjustments at the chiropractor can help avoid these issues before they even begin.

To schedule a complimentary consultation, where a conversation is never a commitment, contact us at 734-221-0362.

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