A spinal disc is the soft gelatinous material that cushions the spinal vertebrae. For many, this disc material will bulge out of its normal location and put pressure on the spinal nerves. This can occur due to ageing or injury. For some, a bulging disc causes no symptoms, but for others, it creates low back pain, a limited range of motion, pinched nerves and pain that radiates down the legs. When a patient experiences pain, treatment for the bulging disc is in order.
Bulging disc treatment usually begins with non-invasive treatments. Often, any discomfort associated with the condition can be relieved with activity modification. Physicians and physical therapists will teach the patient proper body mechanics, such as proper lifting techniques or good posture, so that the patient can avoid causing pain or aggravating the condition further. Medications to control the pain are often prescribed. Physiotherapy techniques, like massage, ultrasound therapy and exercises to strengthen the muscles in the back, can often relive the symptoms of a bulging disc. Cortisone injections into the spine can give temporary relief as well. According to Dr. John A. Van Houten of Spine Universe, there are few complications from these less aggressive techniques.
Each patient will be given a unique treatment plan based on the location of the bulging disc and his or her pain level. However, according to the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Columbia University Medical Center, most physicians will seek more aggressive treatment if these conservative measures do not cause significant improvement in at least 12 weeks.
In lieu of surgery, some patients with bulging discs choose the help of a chiropractor. For patients who do not have any extreme symptoms from their bulging discs, conservative chiropractic care can provide relief without the risk of surgery. To treat a bugling disc, the chiropractor will use low force spinal adjustment to realign the spine and remove or lessen the pressure on the spinal nerves. For many patients, this leads to relief of the painful symptoms.
Like non-chiropractic non-invasive techniques, more aggressive care is necessary if a patient does not respond to the chiropractic adjustments after a period of about 12 weeks. A good chiropractor will continually evaluate the patient's progress throughout the treatment period.
Open back surgery, the most aggressive treatment for a bulging disc, requires general anesthetic. The physician will access the spine through an incision near the area where the disc is bulging. A small portion of the backbone is removed so the physician can access the disc. Once the area is accessible, the physician will remove the bulging pieces of the disc. The primary goal of surgical treatment is removing the pressure on the spinal nerve that is causing discomfort.
Most physicians prefer microdiscectomy spine surgery over open surgery. This procedure involves a series of small incisions and requires no lengthy hospital stay. The physician will access the disc and remove a small portion of the tissue using tiny instruments and a microscope that allows the physician to see what is occurring. Little cutting of the muscle and soft tissue around the spine occurs during a microdiscetomy. According to the University of Southern California's Center for Spinal surgery, a microdiscectomy is one of the most common spinal surgeries currently performed.