If you’re reading this then chances are you’re in a lot of pain. You either suspect you have, or have been diagnosed through medical imaging scans- a bulging disc. Treatment is important, but having an understanding of the process helps to deal with the pain.
The term “bulge” to describe this process is often interchanged with “herniated”, “prolapsed” or “slipped”. They all mean the same thing, that being, the material between your vertebrae has moved from where it should be and is now pinching/compressing one of your spinal nerves as it exits your spinal canal/cord.
If this sounds too confusing, allow me to paint an analogy I often use with my patients… Think of a Jam Doughnut. The whole thing is a simple way to represent a typical spinal disc. The jam centre represents the soft centre of your disc, known as the “Nucleous Pulposus”. Don’t get caught up on the name- just think of the jam being squeezed out of the doughnut onto the garden-hose (your pinched spinal nerve) putting a kink in it that stops the water (nerve impulses) travelling to the garden (your muscles & skin).
You’ve all put a kink in a graden hose before, right? Well the water stops when you do this just the same way the nerve impulse stops running through the nerve properly and your muscles’ function and sensation in areas supplied by the compressed nerve are affected.
Lets say you have a C5/C6 bulging disc causing compression of the C6 nerve. C = Cervical = neck vertebrae. 5 = the fifth vertebrae from the top and 6 is the sixth.. Anatomy is simple once you know! The C6 nerve supplies skin sensation on the thumb side of your forearm and muscles that flex your elbow and wrist, like the biceps. So you could expect to have pain and weakness in the bicep and tingling or numbness in the forearm.
The same is true if the bulging disc is in your low back or lumbar spine. Only this time the muscles that are affected with pain and weakness are in your legs and feet and the change in sensation in your skin is also in that same area.
Myths – Do’s – Don’ts
Myth - 1: You can get your “disc put back in” if you see the right person. This is complete rubbish. Please do not listen to anyone who says they can put your bulging disc “back in”. When I hear of patients heading off to see some quack who claims he/she can do this- I cringe. I challenge you to put the jam back in the doughnut after you’ve squeezed it out! Impossible, right?! Same is true of a bulging disc- can’t be done. I will tell you what can be done to limit your pain so read on.
Do - 1: If you haven’t already- get some scans, either Cat-Scan or MRI. If I was under the age of 50, I’d go for a MRI because there’s no radiation. Excessive radiation causes cancer and in my opinion, we are exposed to enough of it without choosing to be exposed to more when you have a less radio-active choice (MRI). You can see an Osteopath or your GP for this. It costs you the same. Information is education and when battling this problem, having a good understanding of what is exactly going on, helps. Scans allow for greater understanding and they allow your osteopath to tailor your specific rehab and teach you what you can expect to happen during your bulging disc treatment.
Don’t - 1: If your bulging disc is in your low back then Don’t sit for longer than 20mins at a time. You can push the jam harder out of the doughnut if you do causing you greater pain and loss of function. If you do need to sit for work then prop your spine to be as straight as possible, with a pillow or cushion in your low back to support the normal inward curve.
Do – 2: Have some anti-inflams and pain killers at the ready. There’s going to be times when you’ll need at least some pharmacy products to help take the edge off. Start with over -the-counter products such as Panadol and Neurofen/Voltaren. If this isn’t enough- time for a visit to your local GP for some stronger meds.
Don’t - 2: Don’t freak out. Depending on the severity of your bulging disc you will be in pain for some time..not forever. Getting results with a bulging disc can take time to determine the most appropriate course of action- but you will get there. Just find yourself a good Osteopath (I would say that:-) and a good GP who will guide you back to full recovery.
Myth – 2: Rest. Noooo. Resting makes pain worse! Seems illogical but it’s true. Be sensible of course. Going and riding your mountain-bike off road for 2 hours is obviously not smart but find the “low-Impact” middle ground. Water walking and even jogging in water is a great option.
Do - 3: Always remember- Core is King. If you happen not to know what your core is- think of your abdominal muscles wrapping around your mid-section like a corset. When you contract/tense the core, it helps take a great deal of pressure off your spine by distributing the weight through the core/corset. One of the main reasons we are susceptible to bulging discs is due to the fact that our entire upper body (60% of the body’s mass) is sitting on a vertebrae half the size of your fist. The only other support this vertebrae has is your core musculature. And it only works when you decide to contract it- this is a concious process- not like the unconcious contraction of your heart muscle, you actually have to decide to switch your core “on”. If you are new to this concept- then you will need to be shown. For everyone else- remember that a spine only gets injured when you change body position. Bend, lean, stoop etc. So when do you contract your core?? Exactly! Whenever you change body position!
Do – 4: Do get some bulging disc treatment. Yes, I have said that you shouldn’t believe anyone who says they can put your bulging disc “back-in” BUT this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get treatment. When your disc bulges it irritates many muscles in the spine around the bulge and this can cause your body to become compensated in many other areas, increasing the overall pain and level of impact on your ability to function normally.
Remember- your disc can remain bulging and even show signs of nerve compression and you MAY NOT feel any pain. That’s right- many people walking around normally and in no pain have bulging discs sitting on nerves. For some reason however, they are not in pain. My theory is that their sleeping giant (bulging disc) is not being irritated through poor habits of posture, sitting, bending, etc. Through appropriate and effective hands-on treatment and rehabilitation programs, many of you can achieve this state of relative comfort too.
Do - 5: Call your GP immeadiately of you have numbess or loss of sensation in the saddle (perineal) area or change in urinary or bowel habit- retention or loss of control. In this case your bulging disc in the low back may be pinching a nerve essential to the proper on-going function of these areas and emergency spinal decompression is required. Again- this is why everyone who suspects they have a disc bulge should get scans and should see their osteopath. Professionals are trained to spot these warning signs.
There are many other things you should be doing and shouldn’t for that matter, but these are some of the more important ones that I recommend. Remember- you don’t have to suffer in silence with a bulging disc- much can be done to improve your symptoms and send the Giant back to sleep!
Give me a call anytime if you’d like to know more about bulging disc treatment, or just drop into the clinic in Stones Corner.
Enjoy the journey!
Ps: Please feel free to leave comments and ask questions. I will answer your questions to the best of my knowledge (and as soon as I can) but will respond privately to the email attached to your comment to allow for a level of privacy.
The comments that you leave will be viewable by all, (if appropriate) and I hope some of your shared journey will give hope to others suffering similar pain. In my opinion, knowing that we are not alone in our personal struggle in life is a huge part of winning the battle, so I thank you all for sharing your story.
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