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Bulging Disc in New Jersey

The aging process takes a toll on your spine, and you may develop bulging discs that cause numbness, pain and other symptoms. For the residents of New Jersey, Performance Rehabilitation offers comprehensive treatments for bulging discs at our Totowa and Lafayette Township locations.

What is a Bulging Disc?

Bulging discs are a spinal disorder wherein a vertebral disc bulges through a gap in the vertebrae. This happens when discs deviate from their normal radius and is typically caused by aging.

Many people think that bulging and herniated discs are the same, but these conditions are actually quite different. In herniated discs, a fissure forms in the annulus or outer layer of the disc. This normally occurs on a small portion of the disc and allows the nucleus pulposus, the soft inner tissue, to rupture through. With a bulging disc, it simply protrudes beyond its normal position between the vertebrae. Bulging discs involve much more of a disc than do herniations. Bulging discs are more common, but herniated discs are more likely to cause pain. People can suffer from bulging discs without experiencing any discomfort.

What Causes Bulging Discs?

Bulging discs are typically considered a natural consequence of aging. In many cases, discs may bulge due to both aging and degeneration of the intervertebral discs. Bulging discs don’t necessarily mean that you’re having serious spinal problems.

Bulging discs are only serious once the condition causes narrowing of the spinal canal. If bone spurs occur on the facet joints behind the offending discs, this combination can cause the spinal canal in that area to become too narrow. This is often referred to as segmental spinal stenosis.

Injury, abuse and overuse of the intervertebral discs, like what an athlete or someone with a physically demanding job might endure, can cause the discs to weaken and make them more vulnerable to other issues. Smoking can also promote weakening and deterioration of the intervertebral discs.

What are the Symptoms of a Bulging Disc?

Bulging discs are rather common in both young adults and the elderly, but the condition does not always require treatment. As discs protrude from their normal spot between the vertebrae and put pressure on nerves, you’ll likely notice symptoms into the area of the body where the nerve leads. Some symptoms of bulging discs can include numbness, tingling, pain, and muscle weakness. Depending on the nerves being affected, herniated discs may involve pain that seems like it’s coming from another area of the body, such as the abdomen, kidneys or heart. This is known as referred pain.

In some cases, bulging discs may put pressure on the spinal cord. If this occurs, you may experience symptoms such as:

Symptoms of Bulging Discs in the Thoracic Spine

  • Numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in one or both legs
  • Otherwise unexplained changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Paralysis from the waist down
  • An increase in reflexes in one or both legs, which may cause spasticity

Symptoms of Bulging Discs in the Cervical Spine

  • Pain when moving your neck
  • Deep pain over or near a shoulder blade
  • Radiating pain in the upper arm, forearm or fingertips

Pain caused by bulging discs tends to come on gradually and worsen with time or during certain activities. Symptoms of herniated discs frequently improve over a few weeks or months.

Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar Bulging Discs

A bulging disc and the symptoms it causes can occur in any of the three regions of the spine that contain intervertebral discs.

  • Cervical Bulging Disc

Found in the neck, bulging discs in the cervical region occurs in vertebrae C2 through C7. The first two vertebrae, C1 and C2 or the atlas and axis, do not contain intervertebral discs.

  • Thoracic Bulging Disc

The thoracic region of the spine runs from the collarbone to the bottom of the ribcage and contains 12 vertebrae, which are labeled as T1 through T12. It’s not as common to develop bulging discs in this region, but when it does happen, symptoms can include upper back pain that may radiate to the stomach or chest.

  • Lumbar Bulging Disc

Extending from the waist to the hips, the lumbar region contains five, and in some cases six, vertebrae labeled as L1 through L5 or L6. Lumbar discs are the most common cause of low back pain, which may feel sharp, dull or burning, and radiate into the buttocks, legs and feet. In rare instances, a bulging disc in this region may cause a loss of bowel or bladder control. If this occurs, medical help should be sought right away. Loss of bowel or bladder control can mean that the disc is pressing on the cauda spina nerves, which requires emergency surgery.

How do Doctors Diagnose Bulging Discs?

Diagnosis of bulging discs starts with a thorough history of the issue and a physical examination. If a problem exists, it may mean that a bulging disc in the thoracic region is compressing your spinal cord. Our therapist may also wish to run certain diagnostic tests like an MRI, CT scan or X-ray.

  • X-ray

Our specialists may take x-rays of your spine. While these won’t show bulging discs, they can give us an idea of the amount of wear and tear your spine has sustained.

  • MRI

The most widely used test for diagnosing bulging discs is an MRI. This is a painless and highly accurate testing method. In fact, after x-rays, it’s typically the preferred test to perform if our physical therapists suspect that you have a bulging disc.

  • Myelogram with CT Scan

In some cases, x-rays and MRI scans are unable to show the big picture, so our therapist may suggest other testing methods. A myelogram, which is often combined with a CT scan, may be required in order to obtain more information.

Bulging discs are common, especially in older patients. Performance Rehabilitation, located in Totowa and Lafayette Township in New Jersey, is a leading physical therapy facility for bulging discs. Contact us today to schedule a personal consultation.