The human back is designed with special padding that is situated between each set of two adjacent vertebrae in the spine. These soft, rubber-like pads absorb shock and pressure while we walk and run, so that the bones in the spine are protected and remain stable. These pads, called discs, also enable the spine to bend, twist, and stretch.
There are two main sections of each disc: an outer harder shell and an inner nucleus. The nucleus is softer, with a gel-like consistency. The entire disc is made of various types of cartilage.
Spinal discs can become compromised through wear-and-tear due to overuse, or due to natural loss of hydration as we get older. The damage can result in one of two types of injuries: a herniated disc or a bulging disc.
What Is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc is often referred to as a ruptured disc. A herniation is literally a tear, and the soft interior can leak out and put pressure on adjacent nerves in the spine.
This can happen especially from lifting a heavy object. In fact, the object may not be very heavy, but the discs have deteriorated and are simply unable to sustain the pressure of lifting or pulling.
It is possible to have a herniated disc without feeling any pain. However, the injury will likely intensify as the disc continues to deteriorate, in which case you will begin to feel back pain.
How Is a Bulging Disc Different?
A bulging disc is when the disc is squished and pushes outward, and thereby has a bulging appearance as seen on an X-ray or other scan. A bulging disc can cause discomfort, but it is less likely to cause pain than a herniated disc is.
A bulging disc can cause localized back pain or neck pain when you move. It can also cause feelings of numbness and tingling.
Primary Difference Between Bulging Discs and Herniated Discs
The main difference between a bulging and a herniated disc is the position of the nucleus. Whereas the inner part of the disc remains inside in a bulging disc, it escapes through the puncture in a herniated disc. The protruding nucleus can continuously press against nerves in or near the adjacent spinal cord, causing back or neck pain.
A doctor may order imaging scans to determine the precise cause of the pain. The scans can help determine the position of the disc and whether the pain or discomfort is related to disc damage.
Back Surgeon in Southeast Michigan
The experienced orthopedic team here at Ahlgren Spine specializes in issues related to the neck and back. If you are suffering from pain in the back or neck, we can help.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bradley Ahlgren, contact our friendly staff today by calling us at (248) 215-8080 or by filling out our easy-to-use appointment request form online now. We look forward to helping you get back to enjoying a pain-free lifestyle once again.