Key Differences Between a Herniated and Bulging Disc a sufferer in Lakewood, CO should know

A graphic visualizing the differences between a herniated and bulging disc.

As a resident of Lakewood, CO, you’re undoubtedly aware of the wealth of outdoor activities and hobbies available to you, from hiking and biking to running, golfing, and fly fishing. However, suffering from back pain caused by a herniated or bulging disc can prevent you from participating in your favorite leisures. To effectively manage your symptoms and reclaim your quality of life, it’s crucial to gain a clear understanding of the differences between a herniated and bulging disc.

What Are Spinal Discs?

The spine is a complex part of the body that has a variety of functions, including supporting the body and protecting the spinal cord located inside of it. The spine is made up of a series of 33 individual bones called vertebrae. Each vertebra is separated from one another by intervertebral discs that consist of a tough outlet layer called the annulus fibrosis and a soft, fluid-filled center called the nucleus pulposus.

A healthy spine acts as the body’s shock absorber with the help of these discs, as they cushion the vertebrae from the impact of locomotion. However, when these discs come under increased levels of stress or pressure, they can become damaged.

An illustration that shows tears in the annular fiber resulting in the fluid from the affected disc protruding and touching a nerve.

Trauma and stress can cause tears or fissures in the inner fibers of discs. These tears can cause the fluid from these discs to push outward. They can also hit spinal cord nerves, causing various degrees of pain and symptoms, such as:

  • Pain in the affected area (such as the lower back or neck)
  • Radiating pain that travels down one or both legs or arms
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected area
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills (such as writing or buttoning a shirt)

It’s worth noting that herniated and bulging discs can manifest symptoms that are similar to sciatica, but they are two different conditions.

What Are the Differences Between a Herniated and Bulging Disc?

The main distinction between herniated discs and bulging discs is that both are just two degrees of disc damage severity, with others including protrusions, extrusions, and sequestrations. Understanding the difference between herniated and bulging discs, as well as the severity of your disc damage, is important in determining the most effective course of treatment.

Spinal Disc Damage Severity Levels
Level of Disc Damage Summary Retraction Potential Treatment Options
Bulge A small bulge extends out of the tear and can potentially retract if the excess pressure is taken off of the disc.  Possible with treatment
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
Herniation The bulge is slightly more herniated but can still retract when excess pressure is removed. Possible with treatment
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
Protrusion The fluid in the disc is only held back by a few annular fibers and protrudes significantly from the disc. Retraction is more difficult to treat than bulges or herniations. Possible with treatment but more difficult to treat
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Medication
  • Epidural injections
Extrusion Fibers holding the fluid in the disc are torn completely, causing the fluid to be pushed completely out of the sac to float freely in the spine. This is very painful and will likely require surgery. Unlikely
  • Surgery
  • Physical therapy
  • Medication
Sequestration This is the most severe disc complication in which the free-flowing fluid from the protrusion has broken up into bits of jelly. This also requires surgery. Unlikely
  • Surgery
  • Physical therapy
  • Medication

While anyone can experience a herniated disc, people with certain risk factors are more likely to damage the rough fibers that keep disc fluid isolated to the disc. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Spinal misalignments: The spine has a natural curvature that enables it to function optimally. However, postural issues or spinal curvature disorders such as scoliosis can cause the spine to become misaligned, resulting in increased pressure on the discs beyond their capacity to bear.
  • Weight: Our spinal discs are subject to pressure, and excess body weight can intensify the stress on these discs, particularly in the lower back.
  • Occupation: Engaging in physically demanding work that entails repetitive movements, such as lifting, pushing, or bending, increases the risk of developing a herniated disc.
  • Lifestyle factors: A sedentary lifestyle that involves prolonged sitting, lying down, and insufficient exercise can subject the spine’s joints to prolonged periods of pressure.
  • Genetics: Certain individuals may have a genetic predisposition for developing herniated discs.
  • Aging: As we age, our bodies tend to weaken, and this can be further aggravated by factors such as poor posture, which exerts pressure on our bodies.

Chiropractic Treatment for Herniated and Bulging Discs

It’s essential to note that bulging and herniated discs are stages of disc damage and that a bulging disc can progress into a herniated disc if left untreated. Moreover, these conditions may develop into more severe stages such as protrusions, extrusions, and sequestrations. 

Thus, it is critical to seek prompt treatment to prevent further degeneration. Chiropractic care can provide an effective first line of defense against disc damage by addressing the root cause of the problem before the damage becomes so severe that it cannot be undone.

When the fibers surrounding a disc tear, they will never heal completely. However, chiropractic treatments can relieve the tension placed on discs to eliminate pain and also promote the retraction of the fluid back into the disc. Chiropractors can also improve spinal alignment to prevent the tears from reoccurring. 

Some of the best chiropractic treatments available to those who live in Lakewood, CO, include:

Chiropractic Treatments for Herniated and Bulging Discs
Spinal Decompression Spinal stretching through gentle techniques can alleviate pressure from spinal discs, enabling fluid to retract and water, oxygen, and nutrients to flow into the discs to stimulate healing while also relieving pressure from the nerves in the spine.
Cox Flexion The Cox Flexion technique uses a table that is designed to apply gentle traction to the spine while the patient lies face down. The table allows the chiropractor to isolate specific areas of the spine and apply targeted pressure to alleviate pain and reduce pressure on the affected disc.
Spinal Realignment Spinal realignment by a chiropractor can help treat herniated discs by addressing postural issues that are applying pressure on the affected discs, relieving pressure, allowing the body to naturally heal the injury, and preventing excess pressure in the future. 
Corrective Extension Traction Corrective extension traction involves using a specialized table with harnesses that are attached to the patient’s body. The table then gently pulls the patient’s body in opposite directions, allowing the spine to be decompressed and stretched. It is performed over a series of 20- to 30-minute sessions.
Exercise Therapy By incorporating a combination of posture-improving and stability-promoting exercises, spinal strength and flexibility can be increased.

Many of these treatment options are used in tandem with one another to create the most effective plan for any person suffering from a herniated or bulging disc. However, the best treatments will address the underlying cause of disc damage to ensure a long-term solution that prevents the annular fibers from tearing again.

PostureWorks Provides the Best Chiropractic Treatment for Herniated and Bulging Discs in Lakewood, CO

The best treatments for herniated and bulging discs are the ones designed to treat the true cause of your disc damage.

At PostureWorks, we believe that true healing begins with an understanding of your body inside and out. That’s why we use Chiropractic BioPhysics® as the foundation for our treatment plans because it allows us to properly analyze your medical health using a combination of biology, physiology, physics, geometry, and anatomy to identify the cause of your herniated or bulging discs.

We then design a customized, non-invasive treatment plan that’s tailored to your unique needs. By alleviating your pain and improving your spinal alignment, we can help you regain control of your life without the fear of future disc damage. Imagine being able to do all the things you love without worrying about the pain—that’s the power of PostureWorks.

Contact us today to learn more about the differences between herniated and bulging discs or to schedule your appointment with PostureWorks in Lakewood, CO.

Chiropractic BioPhysics®, or CBP, is a deeply researched and results-oriented corrective care technique. CBP-trained chiropractors aim to realign the spine to health and optimal function. As with all chiropractic care, CBP is conservative, painless, and non-invasive.

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