What is a Bulging Disc and What Can I Do About It?

By: Dr. Kathy McAuliffe, DC

It seems today with all the sophisticated diagnostic testing used for people with back and neck pain, the bulging disc is a common term used to explain patient’s pain. What is a bulging disc? What can I do about it? Can a chiropractor help me if I have a bulging disc?

A basic review of anatomy helps to understand what’s happening with the disc and the joints and nerves surrounding it. The disc used to be explained as the cushion between the vertebrae or bony parts of the spine. Now, we understand the discs are much stronger than that. The disc is a fibrocartilaginous structure between each of the vertebrae of your spine. You have 24 movable vertebrae or bones in your spine and a disc between each one of them. These discs support the spine and allow and assist with motion in the spine.

The disc is composed of a nucleus at the center, which is surrounded by crisscross fibers that allow for biomechanical alignment. As these fibers are stressed, weakened, and age, they are not able to maintain the spacing between the vertebrae. This results in parts of the disc bulging because of biomechanical weight bearing, gravity, and its compression on the spine.

As these fibers weaken and age they are not able to maintain the spacing between the vertebrae. This results in parts of the disc weakening because of biomechanical and load bearing gravity, and it’s compression on the spine. This diagnosis always leads to the question “can you help me if I have a bulging disc?” The answer is “it depends, but likely yes,” how do I know this?

This is the beauty of scientific research, and having a 17-year-old daughter with a homework assignment. In guiding her to the necessary resource information for her research paper, she/we came across numerous studies about bulging discs and what that diagnosis means clinically.

Over one third of the population has a bulging disc in their spine with no back pain or neck pain. Wow! That’s a lot of people. So what exactly causes people to have the pain? The answer being, no one knows.

Very simplistically, there are so many joints in the spine; researchers explain it makes more sense to look at the joints first as the cause of the pain.

What does this mean? The easiest way to understand it goes back to basic mechanics. One or more of these joints gets out of alignment or subluxated. This subluxation results in inflammation, nerve irritation, localized muscle spasm.  Because this subluxation occurs it changes the mechanics or alignment of the joints and structures around it. Think about what would happen if one of the tires on your car were out of alignment. Maybe not a big problem if you drive on it for five miles, but keep driving with that one tire out of sync and over a period of time, you’ve disrupted all of the mechanics of the car’s alignment.

It’s the same with your body. By the time the disc has bulged and/or weakened, it’s usually because the small joints of the spine have been subluxated for so long and the body has been working at adapting and compensation for these misalignments resulting in damage to the disc. It is the faulty biomechanics of the joints that has led to the stress on the rest of the spinal unit resulting in the disc problems.

Now, that is something that makes sense. The same concept that applies to your misaligned tire applies to your misaligned or subluxated spine. This leads back to our original question, “what about a bulging disc?”

The answer is, get your spine checked for subluxation or misalignment by a chiropractor. The chiropractor is the expert in finding out if these misalignments are the cause of your back pain or neck pain. It is far more likely that these subluxations are the cause of your problem than the bulging disc.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,