Bulging disc injuries can be extremely painful and even lead to long-term disability in extreme cases, especially when a person suffers from multiple injuries. According to the Laser Spine Institute (LSI), 90 percent of all bulging disc injuries occur in the lower back or lumbar area of the spine, potentially leading to debilitating pain and long-term disability in some people. The LSI also suggests that many people may not even realize that they are suffering from a bulging disc because there can sometimes be no symptoms until the injury becomes severe.
Causes of a Bulging Disc
According to the LSI, bulging disc injuries occur most often in the L4-L5 or L5-S1 regions, which are the lower discs in the lumbar region of the spine. The disc in between the L4-L5 vertebrae is extremely vulnerable to injuries because these vertebrae take a great deal of normal wear and tear throughout our lives. Because of the location of these vertebrae – mainly being that the lumbar region bears a majority of our upper body weight – this particular disc is the subject of a large amount of the stress that comes with regular body motion.
One of the most common causes of a bulging disc is the normal wear and tear that comes with normal aging. Because these discs essentially act as “shock-absorbers” for the pressure that gets distributed throughout the spine, they take on a great deal of stress over time. Over the years, these discs begin to lose water content as part of normal wear and tear on the body.
A loss in water content causes these vertebral discs to flatten out and lose the cushioning effect they are meant to provide to the vertebrae. Eventually, this transformation causes the disc to become weaker in certain areas and may even result in the outer part of the disc to build up and extend outside the vertebrae, eventually pressing on the outer nerves. This pressure on the nerves is what eventually leads to serious pain and disability.
While the L4-L5 and L5-S1 regions of the spine are the most common for bulging disc injuries, this type of injury can occur anywhere along the spine. Additionally, these injuries are most common in people in their 30s and 40s, but can begin as early as the 20-year mark.
Trauma Leads to Pain
While regular aging is listed as one of the most common causes of bulging discs, there are more acute causes of these injuries as well. Aside from normal wear and tear, car accidents are one of the most frequent contributing factors. The high-impact trauma from an auto collision can easily disrupt the alignment of the spine and cause uneven pressure on a vertebral disc. Sports can have a similar effect on the body, especially physical sports such as football and basketball that involve a lot of physical contact.
Typically, symptoms of a bulging disc injury begin at the site of the affected disc and spread throughout the body. Bulging discs that begin in the lumbar or sacral areas of the spine (L5-S1 region) will typically result in initial pain in the lower back and spread throughout the nerves that are in the area.
Once a disc begins pressing on those nerves, victims of these injuries may begin to suffer shooting pains throughout the legs and down to the feet.
In more severe cases of a bulging disc, patients may require some form of quick surgical procedure. According to the LSI, these procedures are necessary in approximately 10 percent of all disc injury cases. This is typical in instances where the patient has suffered from disabling pain and potential loss of movement in different areas of the body.
Artificial disc replacement and spinal fusion procedures can be employed to repair the damage that has been done to the spine and alleviate the pain symptoms. These procedures can be extremely expensive and typically require long recovery periods that may put you out of work for an extended period of time. Chiropractic treatment is another common form of treatment for these kinds of back injuries, as reinforcing proper posture and incorporating appropriate stretching exercises can realign the spine and relieve the pressure from the nerves.