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Bulging & Herniated Disc

What are bulging and herniated discs?

A disc acts as a cushion between your vertebrae. Discs are flat and round, and they are composed of an outer layer of tough cartilage and a softer, jelly-like cartilage layer in the middle. When a disc is bulging, the outer cartilage extends outside the space in which it normally sits. A herniated disc, also called a ruptured or slipped disc, occurs when some of the soft, inner cartilage protrudes from the disc.

Common symptoms

Bulging discs are very common and often don't cause pain. Symptoms of herniated discs vary, depending on the location and severity, and may include arm or leg pain, numbness, tingling or muscle weakness, which can cause you to fall or limit your ability to lift or carry items.

How are herniated discs diagnosed?

In most cases, your surgeon can diagnose a disc problem with a physical exam. He or she will check your back for tenderness and may ask you to lie down and move your legs into different positions to determine the cause of pain and the nerves that are affected. In some cases, your surgeon may order imaging tests, such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

How are herniated discs treated?

Most people can find relief with noninvasive treatments:

  • over-the-counter medications
  • prescription pain relievers,
  • muscle relaxers or cortisone injections
  • physical therapy

If conservative treatments don't help, surgery may be considered. Surgical options include removing the protruding portion of the disc (called discectomy, the most common surgical treatment), removing the entire disc, fusing vertebrae together or implanting an artificial disc.

The surgeons at REX Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can help you decide on the treatment that's best for you. They specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery and are experienced in diagnosing and treating disc disorders and disease, using the newest techniques for relieving pain and returning you to an active lifestyle. To make an appointment at REX Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, call 919-784-1410.


Mayo Clinic
American Association of Neurological Surgeons