Between each vertebra in your spine, there are discs made of an outer ring of tough cartilage and an inner core of soft cartilage. These discs have three primary functions – to absorb shock between the vertebrae, to act as ligaments that hold the vertebrae together, and as cartilaginous joints that allow movement in the spine.
The spine has 23 vertebral discs, and at birth, these discs are composed of nearly 80% water. As we age, the discs tend to shrink and stiffen. Our bodies carry a heavy load along our axial skeleton, including our craniums which house the most important organ of all – the brain. For these discs to remain healthy and maintain their strength, they must stay well-hydrated.
What causes bulging discs?
Bulging discs are an unfortunately common side-effect of aging; however, they can also occur due to chronically poor posture, injury, dehydration, repeated wear and tear, and weakened back muscles, to name a few. What happens is that as the disc shrinks and stiffens, the outer layer begins to balloon outward. Eventually, it balloons beyond the edge of the vertebrae around it and officially becomes a bulging disc.
Bulging discs, while potentially uncomfortable, are not the same as herniated discs, which are more severe. A bulging disc can turn into a herniated disc, but herniations also occur due to acute trauma to the spine. A herniated disc occurs when the soft and gelatinous inner core protrudes past the tough cartilage of the outer ring. While bulging discs can cause some discomfort if the bulge begins pressing on a nearby nerve, herniated discs more frequently cause noticeable pain, especially when caused by an injury.
What are the symptoms of bulging discs?
Even though you may not experience back pain with bulging discs, they can still hurt your body in ways you may not know are related to the bulging disc. For example, you may experience tingling and numbness in fingers, hands, arms, neck, or shoulders if you have a bulging disc in the cervical spine. Bulging discs occur most frequently in the lumbar spine, and you may notice symptoms such as difficulty walking, or numbness, tingling, or pain in the feet, thighs, buttocks, and lower spine. Depending on the location of the bulging disc, you might also experience bladder incontinence, upper back pain radiating to your chest, and muscle spasms.
How can chiropractic care help a bulging disc?
When you see a chiropractor, they will inquire about any symptoms you are experiencing as well as assess your posture, gait, and range of motion. In doing so, your chiropractor will be able to tell if you are suffering from a bulging disc that may be pressing on surrounding nerves. In some cases, x-rays may be taken to get a complete picture of your spine and check for severe misalignment and both bulging and herniated discs.
After this assessment, your chiropractor will complete a realignment through gentle spinal manipulation. With your spine back in its natural alignment, the pressure will be taken off the discs, which will help them return to their proper positions between the vertebrae. While this may take several adjustments to achieve fully, rest assured that each adjustment is making improvements to your spinal alignment and thus your discs and nerves. In addition to these adjustments, it is vital that you also remain hydrated, and avoid slouching and unsafe back movements which can exacerbate the problem and halt your improvement.
For more information about how Stellhorn Chiropractic can help treat bulging discs, contact us today.