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What is a Protruding Disc?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A protruding disc is a disc in the spine which has herniated, meaning that the soft material which is normally on the inside of the disc has pushed through a weak point in the connective tissue which normally surrounds the disc. A variety of symptoms can be associated with a protruding disc, including back pain, numbness, tingling, or a general change in sensations in the region of the body connected to the nerves which pass by the disc involved. There are several treatment options for this condition, depending on the severity of the problem and the patient's condition.

Protruding discs are also known as bulging discs, prolapsed discs, or slipped discs. They occur when the soft, pulpy material inside the disc, known as the nucleus pulposus, pushes against a weak point or tear in the annulus fibrosis, the outer layer of the disc. While the material does not actually leak out of the disc, at least in the early stages, it causes a characteristic bulge.

The bulge can apply pressure to the nerves in that region, causing distinctive sensations in the area of the body connected to those nerves. As the normal signaling of the nerves is interrupted, the patient may feel heat, cold, prickly sensations, or numbness on the skin, even though these sensations are not actually occurring. The damaged disc can also cause back pain, especially in certain positions, and it can inhibit a patient's range of motion by causing considerable pain.

It is most common to see a bulging disc in the lumbar spine, and for some reason, disc herniations appear to occur early in the morning. This may be due to the change in position caused when people get out of bed, or it may be related to changing fluid levels in the nucleus pulposus which cause it to become more vulnerable to herniation at particular times of the day. The protruding disc can be seen in a medical imaging study such as an X-ray, allowing a doctor to identify the problem and measure the size of the protrusion to determine how serious it is.

Sometimes, a protruding disc can be managed with medication to treat the pain, along with physical therapy. Some patients benefit from acupuncture, chiropracty, and other forms of supplementary medicine. In other instances, it may be necessary to perform surgery on the spine to correct the problem and repair the disc to reduce the risk of protrusion in the future.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon320801 — On Feb 19, 2013

I found out four months ago I had a bulging l4/l5 lumbar disc when I kept having a buttock cramp when I sit down or when I stood up. No other time. The first week of January I played a Wii game and since then everything has been limited for me. I had severe shooting pains down my leg that felt like electric. It was horrible.

That ended about two weeks ago, now, I still have pain in my ankle, leg, calf, thigh, hip and buttock. But it's not as bad but still bad. I have been to a chiropractor three times but not sure it's helped anything.

I have been icing and use heat as well for my muscles, have used NSAIDs and try to stretch some but I think they make it worse. So this stage has been going on for about six weeks. Any ideas when it will end for me or if this big bulge will eventually heal on its own? I'm completely against surgery. Thanks in advance.

By anon305690 — On Nov 27, 2012

A bulging disc can be extremely painful. I have had herniated discs at L-4 L-5 and S-1. I had the same feeling down the side of calf also into my groin and knees, which hurts like holy hell. I have had a disc laminectomy (I think that's what its called), where they pretty much cut off the bulging part of the disc where it was contacting the sciatic nerve. I also had a fusion that was a total fail. Just wanted to give you my advice after four spine surgeries.

Work out and get your core strong as possible.

Good shoes help. Inversion tables are great for pulling the bulge back in. Walking is really good. What I'm getting at is, the last thing you want is to have surgery. It's not guaranteed, so think whether you could handle having to live without the use of your legs, or with twice the pain you have now if something doesn't go right. Do your homework on your doctor! You only get one spine.

By anon300849 — On Nov 01, 2012

I had a microdisectomy and lamenectomy 20 years ago at the L4/5 level. I was 25. I have been in pain ever since and have taken painkillers for 20 years. Back then it was pretty barbaric the way that surgery was performed. I had scar tissue grow around my sciatic nerve, have numbness in my feet and just about every other pain everyone has listed here. I am now waiting for a spinal fusion and have been fighting the insurance company for a year. They tell me 80 percent chance of no pain. Yeah!

By anon299978 — On Oct 27, 2012

I have an L5 slipped disc in my lower back. The disc

above is not in a good way either. I had injections but they did not work. What's the best thing to do to get away from the constant pain?

By anon291750 — On Sep 16, 2012

I had surgery for protruding discs l4 and l5 two weeks ago. I am a 52 year old female. I suffered agony in back and down left leg for three years. I turned down surgery year and a half ago because I thought I would find other ways to cope. Now I'm recovering and feel great in only a fortnight. Wish I'd done it sooner.

By anon291411 — On Sep 14, 2012

My l5 nerve is being pinched causing cramping down the outside of my calf and over the top of my foot into my big to which is numb. My question is will my toe go back to normal sensation when the pinched nerve is relieved?

By anon267629 — On May 10, 2012

@wendy1968: I was just diagnosed with same thing and my doctor said the reason it is limiting my walking and bending and twisting is because it is pinching a nerve. Hope that helps.

By anon257493 — On Mar 27, 2012

I am garima and I'm 33 years old. I've suffered from backache for the last seven years -- soon after my delivery.

I have taken all possible treatments, including pain killers, acupressure and physiotherapy but still I haven't improved. In fact, my pain has started coming down my legs and really, believe me, it's very painful.

I got my MRI done last year and it showed some small, broad-based disc protrusions at L3-4 L4-5 and L5-S1 levels. I'm in pain. Please help me in knowing and curing my problem.

By anon253826 — On Mar 11, 2012

I have had back problems for seven years now. I was told that my facet joints in my lower back had arthritis in them at L4 and L5, and I was eventually given injections which didn't work.

I went for a second opinion and was then diagnosed with bulging discs at L4 and L5. I was told nothing could be done. I have been going to a pain clinic for six years, have had physio, injections and epidurals, but nothing has made it better and they want me to attend a pain management programme. Recently, I had an MRI and was told I've got more bulging discs at L1, L2 and L3m as well as at L4 and L5. They have discharged me and still want me to attend a programme but won't do surgery, which is what I want.

I'm in chronic pain around my tummy, hips and legs, as well as my back. I am miserable. I never want to go out and socialise and can't do a lot around the house. I'm 57 nearly and feel as though I could be in a wheelchair later in life. No one wants to know.

By anon245029 — On Feb 03, 2012

@Wendy1968: More than likely, your protruding disc is pressing against the sciatic nerve. That is exactly what I have. I rolled over in bed seven weeks ago and the pain just shot through me like a train hitting me. I have a protruding disc at L5 - S1. I also have disc degeneration in the L5 - L4 area and mild arthritis. My chiropractor has done wonders for me to relieve my sciatic pain that runs down my leg. He also recommended me buying an inversion table which also has helped, just don't go into full inversion right off the bat or you'll just irritate it. I only do a 20 degree inversion and find that it is enough. Also, lots of stretching helps.

Check YouTube for sciatic nerve exercises. There are some good ones there. I also found that tylenol #3 didn't touch my pain so I stated taking over the counter muscle relaxers and that helped me get through my day at work.

One thing my chiropractor also said was never get injections. He has seen patients get them and in 5 years time they are so full of arthritis he can hardly do anything for them. If anything, he said micro-surgery. I hope this helps.

By anon182082 — On Jun 01, 2011

I have a protruding disc as well. I'm pretty much always in mild pain. But they said I could use surgery or ignore it since there is no nerve damage.

Unfortunately, this happened when I was only 14 years old.

By anon177297 — On May 18, 2011

Last September I picked up a gallon of milk and nearly hit the floor with the instant pain. A few weeks later, I wasn't getting better, so my family doctor ordered an X-ray and MRI, then referred me to a neurosurgeon when those results came in. I had a herniated disc at L-5 with nerve impingement.

It was my youngest child's senior year so I postponed having surgery for three additional months. Now I am five months post-op and continue to have a numb feeling down my right leg (actually it feels like my leg and foot have been shot full of novocaine!). Also, I would swear that the three smallest toes on my right foot are all piled up, like I put on a shoe that is way too small! It throws off my balance. Sometimes i don't get my foot picked up when I am walking and I stumble. It is very discouraging!

I cannot sit for more than 4 or 4 1/2 hours, so I am still not back to work full-time, and worried about my job as it is a small office and although I do as much as I can while I am there. I'm needed all day, not a half a day.

A second MRI has shown that I have yet another herniated disc, this time with no nerve impingement, but with mild distortion. What is distortion? I was told that the odd feeling in my right leg and foot may take a long time to go away, or it may never go away.

Now I am facing either nerve block or a second surgery. Anyone else been here? what do you suggest? Too young to feel this old!

By anon161915 — On Mar 21, 2011

@anon129954: I totally get what you mean when you say "Does anyone else feel like once you become that person in pain you become someone no one not even yourself can recognize." After three back injuries from work and a car accident, i don't feel like I'm ever going to be the same. i have no choice but to give up a job i once loved. and i can't think of a single thing that i want to do now, and i am miserable. i just had an MRI (11 months after my car accident) to find i had a slipped disc, tendinitis in my shoulder and a lot of damage done to my back from the four injuries I've sustained. and i won't have surgery. I'm going to find a better way to deal with this. the last thing i want is someone poking around in my spine. i hope you also find a way to get better.

By anon155283 — On Feb 23, 2011

I have just been told I have a protruding disc. I am a very fit 46 year old woman so to be told to slow down is not going to be easy.

I have been given a painkiller and I have to say for someone who does not take medication from doctors this has had made some difference. I have also got carpal tunnel syndrome so in a bad way at the moment. I will never have surgery so I will carry on with my yoga and swimming. This also works guys. You just need to listen to your body.

I do have to say I cannot believe how long some of you have had to wait for an MRI scan, all of my diagnosis has been over the past five months including going for my scan three weeks ago. Good luck.

By anon129954 — On Nov 26, 2010

I have been dealing with a thoracic spine injury since I was 20. I have lived with chronic pain off and on for many years but recently after holding over a 800lb patient I reinjured the site and demanded a MRI out of frustration.

I have a protruding disk t11 t12 which I received injections for two weeks ago. I also have many degenerative disks in my cspine that seem to cause a great deal of pressure on my neck causing swelling. My Dr wants to get x rays of my cervical and lumbar spine to make r/o any other damage to my spine.

I have a great deal of pain that seems to spread across on side of my body where the disk is protruding outward. The pain mixed with the constant numbness and pressure makes it harder to notice any improvement from my injections. I'm concerned with the degenerative disks and can't come up with a reasonable option to reverse or correct the painful problem.

I was told to talk to a neurosurgeon about surgery but in my mind I feel there must be a better way to rehab myself and become back conscious. I am always lifting heavy patients and I would like to continue my job and my life but I have no answers.

I like to believe that over time I will heal but the pressure to back to work and lift these patients has somehow made #1 priority. Reaching over a 800lb patient on a vent and holding them over must have put so much pressure on my thoracic spine and cervical spine.

The physician never gave me a MRI for my upper back but he did state that my neck had some changes and with time it would heal normally. That was not the case and I continued to live with neck pain that swelled up and felt puffy and all I wanted to do was crack it because I felt it would just go away after that. So now I'm 30 wondering what I can do to safely bring my spine to good health and continue doing what I love the most.

I have not taken any second of my day to relax, I am a very fast paced person who gets restless and trust me being restless with chronic pain leads to anxiety and depression because I can't explain the pain or show people what's wrong I can only do what I can till I'm in tears which is every day.

Does anyone else feel like once you become that person in pain you become someone no one not even yourself can recognize. I know I avoid people now because they all ask me if I'm getting better or when's surgery? or you should quit your job that you love and do something that would make you miserable.

I'm not ready to give up on those injections. I might be lying to myself but something has to make sense of all this.

By anon109252 — On Sep 06, 2010

I have have a knee problem which is numb but painful at the same time. this is a referred feeling from my prolapsed disc. I have had mri and x rays and a procedure with needles placed in my spine to alleviate the problem, this has helped a lot but I cannot bear to have the bed covers touch my knee. I'm still getting physio and hope this will improve. --pauline

By anon98325 — On Jul 22, 2010

I was told that the disc is pushing against the sciatic nerve and that causes the pain in hips and legs. It's what I have.

By Scot Tracy Somero — On Jun 26, 2010

I just found today after my MRI, that I have a couple or herniated discs in my lumbar. I will be meeting up with my doctor in July. I was told so far that I might just need some shots and therapy. I also have advanced stages of arthritis in my back and I will only be 38 on July 3. I guess that even though i have always been active in sports that if you don't be careful things can go wrong. Take care of your back in any signs of trouble.

By anon87801 — On Jun 01, 2010

I don't know the answer to your question, wendy1968, but this is exactly what my husband has. The doctor just told him he needs surgery.

By anon65071 — On Feb 10, 2010

I don't think this article is correct in its information, it says that a herniated disc is the same as a bulging disc and this is not true.

I have two bulging discs, but they are not herniated. Herniation occurs when the pressure on the protruding disc is so great that it actually ruptures and lets the liquid in the center leak out.

I saw a neurosurgeon and he said that my two bulging discs were not causing any problems. We found them when my doctor ordered an MRI due to my 15 years of chronic shoulder pain.

By wendy1968 — On Jun 05, 2009

why does the protruding disc cause so much pain in my hips and legs and causes me to have limited walking ability?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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