One of my patients came into my office last week wanting information to do a speech on bulging discs for his college public speaking class. He wanted to use this topic because he had suffered from disc problems for years being a former member of our heroic military, and it was something he could apply to the lives of other members of his class. Because I deal with this condition on a regular basis in my office, sitting down with this patient to help him with his speech made me remember that bulging discs can be a little scary and confusing to people who have never had back or neck problems. So I’m going to answer some of his questions for you so that you may have more information on a condition that may be affecting your life or the lives of people you care about.
To begin with, discs are the cartilagenous cushions that are between the vertebrae of your spine. Each disc has 2 parts: a tough outer layer of cartilage that surrounds a softer gel-like material in the center. I often compare them to jelly doughnuts with my patients. So a bulging disc is one that simply extends or bulges outside the space it should normally occupy due to some weaking of the outer disc. Bulging discs are very common and can often be asymptomatic unless something is done to inflame them.
So what can cause a bulging disc? Wear and tear on our bodies is my best answer to this question. I’ve seen teenage girls who were avid horseback riders come into my office with bulging discs because they’d been thrown off the horse a few times and then proceeded to put in hours on the back of a horse bouncing up and down on a joint that’s been injured. I’ll see the weekend warrior who sits at a desk weakening his spinal muscles all week long and then taxes his body to the limit on the court putting stresses on his spine that the stabilizing muscles are too weak to handle. I’ve seen the computer guru who spends hours at a time sitting with poor posture in front of a computer screen, not knowing that the poor posture was putting added stress on the discs in his neck causing them to weaken. The causes of a bulging disc are too numerous to mention, but I think you’re getting my point.
So how can a bulging disc be prevented? Simply by taking good care of your spine. If you’ve had an injury to your back – get it checked out by a chiropractor or other spinal specialist. An injured joint could be putting abnormal stresses on a disc causing it to weaken. Also, strengthen the stabilizing muscles of your spine by strengthening your core muscles. Our bodies were not designed to sit in a chair for 6-8 hours a day. This weakens our muscles. So if that’s what you do for a living, make sure you spend time working those muscles when you’re not at work. I’m a big advocate of using the physioballs for exercising. You can even use them to sit on during the day at work. I have another patient whose mother is a trainer in CA for some people in the movie industry. She told me the first thing she did when she took on a new client who spends a lot of time sitting is to make sure they’re sitting on a physioball for at least 50% of their day. She said doing that exponentially improved their results in the gym because they were working their muscles when they were away from the gym. Finally, be sensible with your lifting and other activities that put stress on your back. I have one friend who used to lift his sofa and other heavy furniture by himself on a regular basis – he too, ended up with a bulging disc. Heavy or awkward items can put extra stress on your spine which will weaken those discs causing them to eventually bulge.
So I hope this helps you get a better understanding of what a bulging disc is and what causes it. I’ll be answering a few more questions about bulging discs in a future post so please stop back to visit us for more information.