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Treatment overview and more!
At Pain and Spine Specialists, our dedicated team of bulging and herniated disc doctors offer personalized treatment plans, utilizing minimally invasive treatments for Bulging and Herniated Discs.
With minimally invasive treatments, you can expect faster recovery times, less postoperative pain, and a lower risk of complications. These treatments precisely target the source of pain, reducing inflammation and pressure on the nerves, thereby alleviating discomfort and enhancing mobility.
To learn more about bulging disc vs herniated disc symptoms, the diagnosis process, treatment options, and other frequently asked questions, explore the resource buttons provided below. If you're ready to speak with one of our board-certified pain specialists, please use our contact form here or give us a call to schedule your new patient consultation.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this office. I was helping my mom find a place for her arthritis pain, and I explained to them how bad it was. They were able to schedule me the same week! That's almost impossible at any doctor's office...and then add COVID..... I was thrilled. I took my mom, and everyone was absolutely so sweet and kind
- Donyasha B.
Dr. Rao. I can't find the words to tell you how much he has meant to me. I followed him from an old practice to his very new high tech office. They offer so many different areas of assistance to those with issues from nutrition to spinal surgery...and much more. His office is professional.
- Mom To2
Dr. Roa is such an amazing doctor! During my first visit he never tried to rush through my appt., he genuinely listened to all my concerns and then took his time to explain to me in detail all his recommendations and how they would help me.
- Nikki Walker
In the 3 years as a patient of Dr. Rao, it is my opinion that he is a phenomenal and extraordinary doctor. He keeps up to date with the latest treatment options, will sacrifice time no matter how many are in the waiting room to listen and explain. Dr. Rao has treated multiple patients with rare illnesses, and shows more empathy than any Dr. I’ve met.
- Mom To2
I have now been with Dr. Rao for 13 years. He is the most caring Doctor I have ever been to! Dr. Rao makes you feel very comfortable at all times. I would not want to go to any other Doctor... I go to the Hagerstown location, everyone is very nice
- Theresa R.
The entire staff from the folks at the front desk to the Nurse, to the Physicians Assistant to the scribe that records the visit for the doctor - (great idea so the Doctor can focus on the patient!!!)
- NVA F.
Completely the best care you could want the staff is so pleasant and caring and the doctors have true heart for healing, love being a patient here would give 10 stars if I could & absolutely the most caring during my procedure with Dr B
- Cathern C.
Always friendly, courteous, and efficient service. From the ladies, who work the front desk, to the nurses and the doctors. I've always had a good experience with the Harrisonburg office in Virginia.
They scheduled my appointment very quickly so that I can get to help that I needed immediately instead of like most places having to wait two to three weeks to get in I called and was able to be seen the next day
- John H.
After transitioning from a pain and spine doctor in Columbia, MD.. The intake staff member at Pain and Spine Specialist made the scheduling a breeze. They were able to get me in within a week.
Digital Guide: Herniated Disc vs Bulging Disc
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Many people ask us, is a bulging disc the same as a herniated disc? While both conditions affect discs in your spine, they are not the same. Here is a breakdown of our spinal anatomy and a comparison of bulging vs herniated discs:
The Anatomy of The Spine
The spine, often referred to as the backbone, is a complex structure that serves as the main support system for our bodies. It allows us to stand upright, bend, and twist while protecting the spinal cord from injury.
The spinal column consists of 26 individual bones, known as vertebrae, stacked one on the other. These vertebrae are categorized into four distinct sections: the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, and sacral region.
- The cervical spine in the neck comprises seven relatively small vertebrae. This section supports the weight of the head and grants it a wide range of motion.
- The thoracic spine, containing twelve vertebrae, is located in the chest area and has ribs attached, forming the rib cage that protects many vital organs.
- The lumbar spine includes five large vertebrae. These are the heaviest and bear most of the body's weight, providing structural support and enabling movement.
- Lastly, the sacral region, consisting of one bone (sacrum) in adulthood, comprises five fused vertebrae. Below the sacrum is the coccyx or tailbone.
Sandwiched between these vertebrae are intervertebral discs, making up the remaining 23 of the total 33 vertebral structures. These discs act as shock absorbers, preventing the vertebrae from rubbing against each other during movement. They consist of a tough outer layer, the annulus fibrosus, and a gel-like center, the nucleus pulposus, which gives the disc its cushioning properties.
So with all that established, what is the difference between a herniated and bulging disc?
Definition of Bulging Disc
A bulging disc occurs when the disc extends outside its common space. Disc bulging is usually considered a normal part of aging. The severity of this condition depends on whether the disc is bulging into the spinal canal. If it is, it causes the spinal canal to narrow, causing pain.
Bulging discs are more common than herniated discs. Wear and tear of the discs happens over time as people age. Discs are covered with a tough layer of cartilage and contain softer cartilage in the middle. The soft inner layer of cartilage can decrease with age, and this causes the disc to become compressed and push out. In these cases, the bulging disc can touch a nerve and trigger pain. Bulging discs typically happen at the bottom of the lumbar spine and can also increase the chances of a herniated disc occurring.
Definition of Herniated discs
Disc herniations are often referred to as slipped discs or ruptured discs. A disc herniation is when the 'inner jelly-like substance' pushes out of the disc because of tears or defects in the outer cartilage layer. This herniation puts pressure on the spinal nerves, causing pain.
Herniated discs are relatively common and can develop anywhere along the spine, although it is seen more in the lower back or the neck. Herniated discs are not very noticeable, and many people have no idea they have one until they have imaging done for another reason. The issues start when the slipped disc compresses the nerve and causes pain. When this happens, mobility can be lost, affecting a person's daily life and how they can complete regular daily activities.
A herniated disc is more likely to cause pain than bulging, as it usually sticks out further and has more of a chance of irritating nerve roots. Symptoms can vary depending on the location and size of the herniation and may only lead to some slight pain in the lower back.
If the bulging or herniated disc is pressing on a nerve, it may also cause numbness along the nerve or weaken the area along the nerve. A tingling or burning feeling can radiate to the neck, arms, hands, back, legs, and feet. Muscle spasms or cramping can also be symptoms of disc problems. Here are some common symptoms to be aware of:
- Pain in the back, neck, arms, or legs: Bulging and herniated discs often cause localized or radiating pain in the affected areas. This pain may worsen with specific movements or positions, making everyday tasks challenging.
- Numbness or tingling: When a bulging or herniated disc compresses a nerve, it can result in numbness or tingling sensations in the extremities. These sensations may be intermittent or constant, depending on the severity of the condition.
- Muscle weakness: Nerve compression can also lead to muscle weakness, making it difficult to perform daily activities or maintain balance. This may increase the risk of falls or injury, further impacting your quality of life.
- Loss of mobility: As the condition progresses, you may experience a reduced range of motion in the affected areas. This loss of mobility can make it increasingly difficult to move freely and comfortably.
Early intervention is crucial in managing the symptoms of bulging and herniated discs. Timely treatment can prevent further complications and improve your overall well-being.
Living with bulging and herniated discs can be challenging, as they often contribute to various pain conditions. At Pain and Spine Specialists, our team is here to help you understand these associated conditions and guide you toward effective treatment options.
Sciatica can develop due to the nerve compression of a bulging or slipped disc. Sciatica is pain radiating along the sciatic nerve, which is a nerve that stems from the lower back and runs down both legs. In some rare but extreme cases, you may also lose bladder or bowel control. If you experience this, then you need to seek immediate medical attention.
A bulging or herniated disc in the neck can compress nerves, resulting in cervical radiculopathy. This condition causes pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates from the neck into the shoulders, arms, and hands.
Degenerative disc disease:
Over time, wear and tear on the spinal discs can lead to degenerative disc disease. As discs lose their cushioning ability, they may bulge or herniate, causing chronic pain and discomfort in the back or neck.
Bulging and herniated discs can contribute to spinal stenosis, a spinal canal narrowing that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This condition can cause pain, numbness, and muscle weakness in the legs, making it difficult to walk or stand for extended periods.
When a vertebra slips out of alignment due to a herniated disc, it can result in spondylolisthesis. This misalignment can cause localized pain, nerve compression, and instability in the spine.
If you're experiencing any of these pain conditions associated with bulging and herniated discs, it's crucial to seek proper care and treatment.
Discs can bulge or become herniated as part of the normal aging process and daily wear and tear. However, most people do not experience intense pain as a result. If you begin to experience chronic pain associated with bulging and herniated discs, it is essential to contact a medical professional. Here is an overview of what causes bulged disc or herniated disc pain:
Age: As a person ages, the disc starts to harden and lose fluid volume, which is known as degenerative disc disease. This degeneration causes the disc to weaken, and cracks potentially form in the outer layer, where the inner gel-like substance can rupture. As the disc continues to degenerate, even a simple twisting motion can make the disc rupture. Herniated discs most often occur in people in their 30s and 40s, with middle to older people having a higher risk if they are involved in heavy physical activity.
Trauma or injury: Trauma is another way bulging or ruptured discs form. Excessive strain or a single injury can cause a slipped disc. Those who participate in rigorous exercise routines, such as weight lifting, can easily hurt themselves to where a herniated disc will occur. People who work a physically demanding job should lift heavy objects correctly to protect their backs from injury.
Poor posture: Slouching or maintaining an incorrect posture can put excessive pressure on the spine, contributing to disc-related issues. Maintaining good posture throughout the day can help alleviate stress on the spine and prevent complications.
Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing spinal issues, including bulging and herniated discs. Research has shown that your chances of herniated discs go up if other family members have a history of them, suggesting there is a predisposition for them.
If you're concerned about a potential bulging or herniated disc, obtaining an accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment. At Pain and Spine Specialists, our physicians are board-certified and are dedicated to giving you a comprehensive exam that will aid in diagnosing the cause of your symptoms.
Our doctors will find out the reason for your pain using advanced diagnostic techniques and then get you on the road to better health immediately. Here are a few steps our physicians use when completing their comprehensive exams:
- Medical History: We take your complete medical history to identify or rule out possible causes of your pain.
- Physical examination: We conduct a thorough physical exam assessing your range of motion, muscle strength, reflexes, and sensitivity to touch. This examination helps identify any areas of concern and provides valuable information about your overall spinal health.
- Imaging Tests: We may order diagnostic tests, including MRI, CT scan, or discogram, to help us diagnose your chronic pain.
- Assessment: We carefully review your symptoms, including how you describe the pain (burning, achy, dull, etc.) and whether certain positions or activities make the pain feel better or worse.
We understand the challenges associated with bulging and herniated discs and are committed to helping you find the most appropriate treatment options for your unique situation.
Living with bulging and herniated discs can be challenging, but a variety of treatment options are available to help alleviate your pain and improve your quality of life:
Many individuals find relief through conventional treatment options, which may include:
- Physical therapy: A qualified physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to strengthen your muscles, improve flexibility, and promote spinal stability. This approach can help reduce pain and prevent further complications.
- Chiropractic care: Chiropractors use manual adjustments and other techniques to realign the spine, relieve pressure on the affected discs, and restore mobility.
- Medication Management: Managing medication is a critical aspect of treating chronic pain. Medication management is provided by the pain management specialists monitoring your care to ensure that you are on the proper medications at the appropriate dosage.
Minimally invasive treatments:
If conservative measures do not provide adequate relief, minimally invasive treatments may be considered, such as:
- Epidural Steroid Injection Treatment: ESIs deliver anesthetic and steroid medication directly to the epidural space in the back. Epidural steroid injections numb the inflamed nerves and prevent pain signals from being sent to the brain.
- Facet Joint Injection Treatment: Facet Joint injections are minimally invasive procedures that deliver medications directly to the facet joints in the spine. The medication helps reduce inflammation and pain, improving mobility and a better quality of life.
- Spinal Cord Stimulation Treatment: This procedure delivers small electrical signals to the spinal cord through the nerves to mask the pain signals. A spinal cord stimulator may be an option when other traditional pain management options have not worked.
- Intrathecal Pumps Treatment: A small device that administers medication directly into the spinal canal. Delivering small doses this way can minimize the effects of taking larger doses orally.
- Minimally Invasive Lumbar Decompression: Minimally Invasive Lumbar Decompression involves the removal of any bone spurs or disc fragments that are compressing nerve roots and relieving pressure on the affected nerves to reduce pain.
- Radiofrequency Ablation Treatment: RFA is a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat to minimize and stop pain signals from moving throughout the body. Nerve endings that cause pain are "burned," so the pain signals are not sent to the brain.
Herniate and Bulging Disc Surgery Options:
If minimally invasive techniques have not provided adequate pain relief, there are various surgical options available. The choice often depends on the severity of the condition, the location of the disc, and the overall health of the patient. At Pain and Spine Specialists, we can assist patients with referrals to surgeons when appropriate. Herniate and bulging disc surgery options include:
- Posterior Cervical Laminectomy
- Open Discectomy
Living with a bulged or herniated disc can cause significant discomfort, but the good news is that they often heal on their own over time. Here are some signs that your bulging disc or herniated disc is healing:
1. Decrease in Pain
The first sign of healing is a decrease in the sharp, shooting pain often associated with herniated or bulging discs. This pain is caused by spinal nerve inflammation and swelling due to pressure from the herniated disc. Over time, as the herniation shrinks, you may experience partial or complete pain relief.
2. Improvement in Physical Function
Physical function improvements, such as increased ability to stand or sit for longer periods without discomfort, could indicate your disc is healing.
3. Reduction in Nerve-Related Symptoms
Nerve-related symptoms like numbness, tingling, or weakness in the area to which the nerve travels typically improve as the herniated disc heals.
4. Increase in Comfort During Rest
As the disc heals, you'll likely find that you're more comfortable when resting. Discomfort or pain that was previously worse at night or after standing or sitting should lessen.
5. Return of Normal Activities
A clear sign of healing is the ability to return to normal daily activities without pain or discomfort
Herniated and Bulging Disc Healing Time
It's important to remember that while many herniated or bulging discs will heal on their own within six months, everyone's healing process is unique. If your symptoms persist or worsen, seeking medical attention is crucial.
Preventing a bulging disc and herniated disc largely centers around adopting a healthy lifestyle and implementing good body mechanics. Regular physical activity is crucial, particularly exercises that focus on strengthening your core and lower back muscles, as these can provide vital support and reduce the risk of these conditions. Using the correct form when lifting heavy objects is also essential in preventing unnecessary stress on your spine.
Maintaining a healthy weight is also beneficial, as excess weight can put additional pressure on the spine and discs, making them more susceptible to herniation. Smoking cessation is another preventive measure, as smoking can increase the risk of disc herniation. Proper posture during sleep, sitting, standing, or exercise can further prevent the development of a bulging disc.
Don't let bulging disc and herniated disc pain control your life any longer. You can reclaim your well-being and live a more comfortable, fulfilling life by seeking treatment and making lifestyle changes.
At Pain and Spine Specialists, we're dedicated to providing patient-centered, compassionate care, using the latest minimally invasive techniques to address your pain effectively. Trust our experienced team to guide you on your journey to recovery. Schedule an appointment with our Pain and Spine Specialists today – we're here to empower you in your health journey, treating you with the dignity and respect you deserve.
At Pain and Spine Specialists, we specialize in comprehensive pain management treatments for bulging and herniated discs. Our board-certified doctors have a proven track record of success and are committed to reducing your pain and improving your quality of life. Don't hesitate to reach out – we're here to provide expert care and support.