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What's the Difference Between a Herniated Disc & a Bulging Disc?

Lower back pain can be low-level and almost constant, or acute and stabbing. It can cause your arms or legs to tingle or go numb, and even affect your balance or ability to sit, stand, and walk. 

At Progressive Spine & Sports Medicine in Ramsey, New Jersey, pain management specialists Dr. Kevin McElroy and Dr. Steven Ferrer can treat causes of low back pain like herniated discs. We’ll correctly diagnose you and help select the correct solution for your painful condition.

How your spine works

Your spine is a tall stack of vertebrae (spinal bones) with cushions between them (discs). The discs in your back have a tough, rubbery exterior (the annulus), and a thick, fluid, gel-like interior (the nucleus.)

As you age, your spine experiences wear-and-tear, and the stack of alternating vertebrae and discs can become compromised. You can injure your back by lifting something too heavy, by turning suddenly in one direction or another, or by being in an accident. 

Bulging vs. herniated discs

If there is a weakness in the annulus, the nucleus can force it outward, causing a bulge. Many people have bulging discs and never even know it, because the bulge doesn’t cause pressure on any nerves. Eventually the weakness in the annulus can heal, and the nucleus is re-centered in the disc.

If there is a crack in the annulus, the nucleus can actually protrude, or herniate. A herniated disc is more likely to cause pain, because the nucleus protrudes far enough to put pressure on nerves around your spine.

Symptoms of a herniated disc include:

If your back hurts so badly that you can’t sleep, or you feel unstable on your feet because of back pain and weakness, you should call your doctor right away. If you lose control of your bladder or bowels, you should go to an ER, as this can be a sign of a rare, but severe, condition called cauda equina, when the nerves at the base of the spine are severely compressed because of a badly herniated disc.

Treatment for herniated discs

The good news is that nearly 90% of herniated discs heal over time without requiring surgical intervention. The team at Progressive Spine & Sports Medicine can examine you and order any necessary imaging (like an MRI of your spine). We might recommend physical therapy, stem cell therapy, electrical stimulation, supportive devices, medication, or a combination of several treatments. 

If you believe you have a herniated disc, don’t delay. Contact our office at 201-962-9199, or request a consultation online today. 

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