Disc protrusion (bulging): what it is, symptoms and how to treat

Disc protrusion, also known as disc bulging, consists of a displacement of the gelatinous disc between the vertebrae, towards the spinal cord, causing pressure on the nerves and leading to the appearance of symptoms such as pain, discomfort and difficulty in moving. This intervertebral disc has the function of cushioning the impact between the vertebrae and facilitating the sliding between them, allowing you to perform movements with ease.

Generally, treatment consists of exercising, physiotherapy or taking analgesic drugs, and in more severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

This problem, when not properly treated, can lead to a more severe herniated disc, in which the internal cartilage can protrude out of the disc. Know all types of  herniated discs and the most common symptoms .

Main symptoms

The most common symptoms caused by spinal disc protrusion are:

  • Pain in the affected region;
  • Decreased sensitivity in the limbs near the region;
  • Tingling sensation in the arms or legs;
  • Loss of strength in the muscles of the affected region.

These symptoms can gradually get worse and, therefore, some people may take time to go to the hospital. However, any change in sensitivity or strength in any of the limbs, be it arms or legs, should always be evaluated by a doctor, as it may indicate a problem in the nerves in the region.

Possible causes

Generally, the disc protrusion happens due to the wear of the outer region of the disc, which happens as the person ages, but it can also occur in younger people, with some movements, such as lifting heavy objects, for example.

In addition, overweight people, weakened or sedentary muscles are also at increased risk of suffering from this problem.

How the diagnosis is made

Generally, the doctor performs a physical examination to identify where the pain is located, and can use other diagnostic methods, such as X-rays, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, for example.

How the treatment is done

Treatment depends on the severity of the disc protrusion, the region where it occurs and the discomfort it causes, which can be done with exercise, physical therapy or taking analgesic drugs.

If the treatment performed is not enough to relieve discomfort, the doctor may recommend stronger medications such as muscle relaxants to relieve muscle tension and opioids, gabapentin or duloxetine, to relieve pain.

The doctor may also recommend surgery if the symptoms do not improve or if the bulging disc is compromising muscle function. In most cases, surgery consists of removing the damaged portion of the disc and, in more severe cases, the disc may be replaced with a prosthesis or the doctor may choose to merge the two vertebrae between which the disc bulging is located.

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