Q: What causes bulging disks and what can be done to avoid the possibility of surgery?
A: Disks are cushions between each of the 33 vertebrae in the spine. They are formed from a tough outer layer of cartilage that forms over softer cartilage within. Bulging disks extend beyond the space they should ordinarily occupy and are generally that specific outer layer of cartilage that protrudes. Bulging disks don’t ordinarily cause pain unless the bulge herniates into the spinal canal. Bulging disks are generally related to the lumbar spine area and most often occur as a result of the aging process. As a means of identification, a herniated disk often results from injury or trauma to the spine, while a bulging disk occurs gradually over time.
Some activities may actually speed up the development of bulging discs and are best avoided. Patients should use good posture, maintain a healthy weight for their frame and height, bend from the knees when lifting heavy objects, and exercise regularly in an effort to strengthen core muscles. Treatment begins with conservative measures such as rest and restrictions on weight lifting. Heat and ice may be effective. Anti-inflammatory medicines, both over-the-counter and via prescription, plus something for pain may provide a sufficient degree of relief. In the past, this might have been followed by cortisone injections; however, a July 3rd study released in The New England Journal of Medicine disproved the worth of epidurals, which implies this modality will be used much less in the future. Chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, yoga, physical therapy and spinal decompression may be recommended. In most instances, the symptoms experienced from a bulging disc will diminish or totally disappear with conservative treatment. If they don’t, however, surgery may be recommended. While once considered extensive, expensive, significant, requiring hospitalization and longer recuperation, newer methods such as laser procedures are available and may even be performed on an out patient basis. Talk about advances through research!
What is correct for you will depend on your age, medical conditions, severity of symptoms, and a whole lot more. Because you don’t indicate if you are otherwise physically fit, are free from cardiac issues, diabetes, hypertension and other possible conditions, I cannot begin to guess what will be in store for you. As I indicated, most bulging discs are painless unless they are pressing against a nerve or become herniated or rupture. I surmise you are asking because you are in pain and may have been told surgery is on the horizon. If this is the case, make an appointment with the surgeon who will be performing the surgery for the answers you seek, or as another option, request a second opinion from a tertiary care center. Ask if laser or another procedure is recommended and why. You should never enter into this or any other invasive procedure without knowing what to expect in terms of hospitalization and recuperation. Only then will you know how to proceed. Good luck.