The human body is made up of millions of intricate parts, working together to carry out a multitude of functions each day. While every individual component is vital to the body’s overall health, it is common for these small, functioning parts to fall out of sync due to the natural aging process, illness or injury. These degenerations commonly occur in the spine and cause millions of people pain and discomfort. A leading condition resulting in spinal discomfort is a bulging disc in the neck and other spinal regions.
What Is a Bulging Disc in the Neck?
In order to understand the condition of a bulging disc, you need to have a general grasp of the cervical spine. The cervical spine, or neck, is made up of seven delicate vertebrae. Between each vertebra are intervertebral discs that separate and cushion the spine, which keep the bones from rubbing together. These discs act as shock absorbers for the spine and have fibrous walls and a gel-like centers.
A bulging disc occurs when one of these discs protrudes out from between two vertebrae. A bulging disc in the neck can happen anywhere within the C2 through C7 vertebrae. When a disc bulges beyond its perimeter, it oftentimes pushes into the spinal cord. It’s important to note that bulging discs can occur thanks to numerous causes and affect the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine as well.
What Causes a Bulging Disc in the Neck?
Spinal discs may bulge out of place due to a multitude of causes, including falling, repetitive lifting or even making an awkward movement in the neck. However, the most common cause for a bulging disc in the neck is simply degeneration due to aging. Discs lose strength and hydration over time, rendering them less pliable and more prone to slip out of place. In some cases, an unhealthy lifestyle or a genetic predisposition to this condition can be to blame. Regardless of the cause, a bulging disc has the potential to cause a long list of symptoms.
Bulging Disc Symptoms
A bulging disc in the neck and other regions of the spine can put pressure on the spinal cord and the surrounding nerves. Because of this, symptoms of a bulging disc may be felt in many places throughout the body along the affected nerve path. If the protruding disc presses on a nerve, several symptoms may arise, including:
- Pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in the neck and shoulders.
- Pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in the arms, hands and/or fingers.
- Myelopathy – Difficulty with motor skills due to spinal cord compression.
While these symptoms are common, some people may experience no pain at all if the bulging disc does not compress the spinal cord or come in contact with nearby nerves.
Who’s at Risk for a Bulging Disc?
Anyone may be at risk of developing this condition, but some people are at a higher risk than others. Lifestyle risk factors that can increase the chance of a bulging disc include those who are overweight, smoke or have a physically strenuous job (e.g., a career that requires heavy lifting and/or repetitive motions). Those with degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis, are also predisposed to developing a bulging disc.
The MISI Approach to Treating a Bulging Disc in the Neck
Combining conservative treatment options to treat a bulging disc will increase the effectiveness of treatment. Conservative treatments can include, physical therapy, chiro care, stretches and exercises, pain medication and lifestyle modification. It is important to always consult a specialist to best determine a treatment path for your condition. If symptoms are not alleviated through conservative methods, minimally invasive surgery is often considered. Most conditions can be treated through surgical decompression while more severe cases may require stabilization. Your MISI spine specialist will determine your best treatment option after a thorough exam and after reviewing the results of a recent CT or MRI. Our specialist can help alleviate your pain so you may return to enjoying your life.
Dr. Bryce Benbow has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.