Conditions

The Difference Between a Bulging Disc and a Herniated Disc

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What is a Disc in the Spine?

Imagine your spine as a stacked column of building blocks. In between each block, there is a cushion of support to protect the column. These cushions are the discs in your spine. They are tough with a hard cartilage shell and a softer layer of cartilage within.

What’s Normal for Discs?

Discs are going to wear down with the aging process. This is normal. Through a healthy diet and exercise, you may be able to avoid the worst of the wear and tear.

What’s a Bulging Disc?

Once the breakdown of the disc becomes too great, the disc begins to bulge. This may only occur to a portion of the disc, depending on the severity of the disc dehydration. Imagine three stacked circles with the middle circle being much bigger than the other two. This will give you an idea of what a bulging disc looks like. A bulging disc may cause pain and impact day-to-day activities; however, treatment options can quickly alleviate this pain. The pain levels of a bulging disc are typically much lower than that of a herniated disc.

What’s a Herniated Disc?

If the disc cracks open and the soft inner layer of cartilage beings to protrude, this is a herniated disc. A herniated disc is much more painful than a bulging disc. You won’t feel the crack in the disc; rather, the slipped disc will put direct pressure on nerve roots, thereby causing a great deal of pain.

How to Tell the Difference

Only a trained professional can let you know whether you have a bulging or herniated disc. Your doctor may order an MRI to see whether or not the disc is bulging or herniated. You can also keep a pain diary with daily activities to help your doctor determine the condition of the disc.

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