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A bulging disc is caused when the fluid-filled disc between the spine's vertebrae shifts out of place. The most common treatments are rest, medication, chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, and steroid injections. For more serious conditions, surgery may be required. A medical professional will diagnose the condition after an examination or during scans of the body, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Unlike a herniated disc, which is typically painful because the disc is touching a nerve, a bulging disc is most often not painful. The disc should be treated, however, since further bulging may cause a spinal misalignment and become painful. For slight issues, the healthcare professional will prescribe rest to relieve any pressure placed on the area. He or she may also restrict certain strenuous activities or sports where twists and sudden movements may exacerbate the problem.
Medication is often prescribed as treatment for bulging discs. Anti-inflammatory or general pain relievers may help alleviate pain or twinges from sudden movements. If over-the-counter medications do not eliminate the issue, muscle relaxers or prescription pain medications may be recommended.
Steroid injections are also sometimes used, especially if there is only one bulging disc. The steroid medication is injected near the disc site to provide localized pain relief. The injection may also be delivered directly into the spinal canal, similar to an epidural. These types of injections are normally used when the compression of the nerve is causing numbness in the arms or legs.
Non-medical treatments for bulging discs include chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy. Once the misalignment is identified, a chiropractor can manipulate the patient's spine to get the vertebrae into the appropriate place. Physical therapy also helps minimize any issues with stiffness or movement restrictions.
Disectomy is a surgical procedure that may be performed if other non-surgical treatments are ineffective. This involves removing a small bit of the vertebrae called lamina to relieve the pressure on the spinal nerve and allow the disc to return to its normal position.
A foraminotomy is another one of the surgical treatments for bulging discs intended to relieve pressure on the nerve. The procedure requires the surgeon to remove any fragments and shave off bits of the area around where the nerve moves into the spinal canal. By enlarging this area, there is less chance for bulging discs to apply pressure to the nerve and cause pain.