The spine is a miracle of moving parts that work together to give our body structure and support. As we age, however, wear and tear on our spine can cause problems such as bulging discs. These perfectly sized discs separate the vertebrae from each other and act as shock absorbers. They’re made up of tough cartilage on the outside and softer cartilage in the center.
According to the Mayo Clinic these discs dry out over time and their cartilage gets stiff, causing the outer layer of the disc to bulge out. Herniated discs, on the other hand, occur when the tough outer layer of cartilage cracks and some of the inner cartilage protrudes out of the disc.
Causes and Symptoms of Bulging Discs
There is a strong correlation between age and bulging discs. “Bulging discs are usually caused by age-related degeneration,” says Dr. Harvey Smith, an orthopaedic surgeon at Penn Medicine. “Because it is considered degenerative, there is usually a progressive, gradual onset of symptoms.”
These symptoms can include:
- Pain in the back, legs, or buttocks
- Problems with walking
Dr. Smith adds, “Bulging discs usually affect multiple discs. This condition develops over time and can cause other disc degeneration-related issues, like lumbar stenosis (narrowing of spinal canal).”
How to Treat Bulging Disc Pain
Once your doctor has diagnosed your condition—through an exam and possible diagnostic tests—then you can receive an appropriate treatment plan. There’s good news!—most back problems don’t need surgery, according to the experts at University of Maryland Medical Center. They further add that the goals of treatment are to make you comfortable, reduce further degeneration, and help you return to normal activity.
Dr. Tony Mork, an endoscopic spine specialist, lists common treatments:
- Improve sleeping, sitting, and posture positions
- Achieve a healthy weight
- Take anti-inflammatory medications
- Use heating pads, ice packs, or massage therapy
- Use taping or bracing for added support
Bulging Discs and Physical Therapy
Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy. According to Twin Boro Physical Therapy, common physical therapy interventions for bulging discs in the lower back (lumbar spine) include:
- Manual therapeutic techniques (MTT) such as soft tissue mobilization to decreased inflammatory response during acute stage stretching and joint mobilization to improve your alignment, mobility, and range of motion. Mobilization techniques can also help with decreasing pain, improving muscle activation and improving joint and tissue mobility.
- Therapeutic exercises such as stretching and strengthening moves to restore your range of motion and strengthen back and abdominal muscles. Certain muscle imbalance causes awkward movements that put increased load on the spine causing increased symptoms from bulging discs.
- Neuromuscular reeducation to help improve your posture, regain stability, and teach proper sleeping, sitting, and body mechanics. Palak Shah, PT, OCS states that “prolonged awkward positions in sitting, lying down or standing can cause stiffness and pain. Also, sudden bending and rotation activities are known to load the discs most causing increased bulging and decreased space for the nerve roots to exit the spinal column. Know your body habits, so you can prevent bad habits.”
- Modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, ice, cold laser, and traction to ease pain and reduce inflammation. However, these are temporary benefits that can relieve pain and improve participation with rehab,
- Independent exercise programs that include strengthening, stretching, and stabilization exercises, plus guidance to help you improve your movement awareness with completing daily tasks. Stay active, but avoid excessive loading and learn how to move your body with good body mechanics so you can continue your exercise program independently in between sessions.
No matter how excellent their treatment plan, many patients often find it challenging to complete their course of care or adhere to their home exercise program. On-demand physical therapy helps you overcome these obstacles. You receive one-on-one time with a board-certified PT who comes to your home and prescribes an exercise plan tailored to your needs and environment. It’s convenient, effective, and designed to help you feel better, faster.
Handpicked Resources for You