Between each vertebra in the spine there is a disc. They function as shock absorbers. They also facilitate the movements of spine. Each disc has a softer material in the center called nucleus pulpous ( inner portion)which is surrounded by the harder materials called annulus fibrosus (outer portion acting like a wall around the nucleus)
A bulging disc is a condition in which the nucleus (inner portion) of a spinal disc remains contained but protrudes toward the annulus fibrosus, unlike a herniated disc in which the nucleus leaks out of the annulus fibrosus.
This protrusion or bulge can put pressure on the surrounding nerve roots, which can lead to pain that, radiates down to buttock and leg. However you can be pain free if the bulge is not causing any compression on the nerve roots. Therefore, Many people may have a bulging disc and not even know about it since the bulge has not herniated or put enough pressure on the nerve roots to cause any symptoms.
How do bulging discs develop?
Degenerative Disc Disease As we age, the discs in our spinal column become less structurally sound and their water content declines. These changes make discs vulnerable to bulges and other complications. Certain factors, such as a sedentary (non-active) lifestyle and smoking, may accelerate the corrosion of disc material.
General “Wear and Tear” Our vertebrae and discs deteriorate over the years due to our bodies’ natural aging process. When discs are strained or the distribution of weight around them changes, they may begin to protrude.
Injury or Trauma For the most part, herniated discs , are associated with immediate injury, while bulging discs worsen slowly. However, an accident or sudden event can occasionally cause a long-term injury that disrupts the spinal system and eventually causes a bulging disc.
Poor Posture Sitting, standing or sleeping improperly can strain the back, and leading to a bulging disc. Good posture involves keeping your body aligned. While sitting, rest with your back straight and your shoulders back. Use a lumbar roll, pillow or towel roll to support your lower back and try to avoid remaining in one position no longer than 30-45mins. Sleeping on your side (sometimes with a pillow to support the top leg) generally can protect your spine.
Occupational Hazards If your job requires repetitive lifting, bending, standing and/or driving, you may be at risk for a bulging disc. Improperly carrying heavy objects may also result in a swollen disc. The safest way to pick up objects is to keep your back straight and use your core and leg muscles, instead of bending forward and relying upon your arms and back to weights.
The good news is that bulging discs can often heal on their own or after engaging in conservative (non-surgical) treatments to provide pain relief such as physical therapy, rest (followed by slow mobilization), epidural steroid injections and pain medications. Typically, 6 to 12 weeks of conservative care is recommended before any surgical options are considered.