According to the American Chiropractic Association, more than 31 million people experience lower back pain at any one time, and in most instances, the cause is mechanical. This means that there is not typically a disease or illness causing the problem, but movement or physical injury. When visiting a physician, patients typically hear terms like “slipped,” “herniated,” or “bulging” discs. What is the difference between these diagnoses, and what is the recommended treatment?

This is Your Spine

The spine is literally the backbone of our bodies, and is formed by a series of bones called vertebrae. These bones are stacked to form a column, and between each is a small cushion of fibrous tissue called an intervertebral disc. These are filled with a soft, gel-like center, and they act as shock absorbers as we stand and move. Improper mechanics or poor conditioning can cause injury to these discs, leading to pain and in some cases, disability.

What is a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc is the term used to describe the condition of a disc protruding outward because of pressure from the spine. This is also commonly referred to as a “slipped” disc.

  • This can occur anywhere in the spine, but happens most often in the low back.
  • The bulge of the disc compresses nearby nerves, causing inflammation, pain, and even numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, usually on one side of the body.
  • While the disc is bulging outward, it has not torn open and the disc wall is still intact.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is also referred to as a ruptured disc. It is similar to a bulging disc, but symptoms can be even more severe because not only has the disc protruded out of its intervertebal space, spinal pressure has forced some of the jelly-like center, or the nucleus pulposus, out of the disc through a tear in the fibrous outer layer, called the annulus.

  • The herniated nucleus pulposus can put additional pressure on nerves near the disc, and is inflammatory in nature, leading to even more neural irritation and lasting pain.
  • Pressure from the nucleus pulposus can actually lead to permanent nerve damage.
  • Disc herniation occurs most often in the low back, and is one of the most common sources of back and leg pain.

How are Disc Injuries Treated?

Some circumstances can increase risk for developing a herniated or bulging disc, including a physically strenuous job, carrying excess body weight, and weak muscles from a sedentary lifestyle. Making lasting changes is necessary and can take time, and is that much more difficult to initiate if you’re experiencing serious pain or disability. Use of spinal decompression as a pain reduction and healing modality is emerging as one of the most promising treatment options.

  • This technique uses careful and safe motorized traction of the spine to relieve the force on the discs, generating negative pressure within them.
  • Discs are also able to absorb oxygen and other nutrients that support and promote recovery.
  • A 2003 study published in the Orthopedic Technology Review noted that 86% of patients reported immediate resolution of symptoms, and that 84% remained pain-free 90 days post treatment.

Considering Your Treatment Options?

At Maine Spine & Nerve Institute, our physicians and staff are dedicated to reducing patient pain without medication or surgery. Using Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression and other non-surgical treatments, we are able to provide pain relief to patients suffering from conditions like bulging discs, disc herniation, stenosis, and degenerative disease. Contact us today for your personal assessment and to learn more about how we can help.