A vertebral disc is composed of a thick, fibrous outer layer called the annulus and a softer inner portion called the nucleus pulposus. A disc bulge happens when the nucleus pulposus migrates closer the outer layer causing it to become “distorted” or ballooned out. A good mental picture of this is to imagine an inner tube in a bike tire starting to push its way through the tire but has not actually broken the tire as of yet. The bulge itself may bring about inflammatory changes producing pain, which is why some patients respond favorably to corticosteroids. If however the bulge comes into contact with a spinal nerve the patient will experience great pain and typically does not improve with medications. Keep in mind that a disc does not have to herniate to irritate or place pressure on a nerve.
Physicians may also refer to a disc bulge as a protruded disc or a protrusion. A disc bulge should not be referred to as a “slipped disc.” Discs do not slip as they are adhered to the vertebrae above and below.
Most often disc bulges can be managed conservatively. We have had great success at treating these conditions and helping those individuals suffering from disc symptoms return to a normal, pain free lifestyle.