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. Read More