What is a Disc Bulge?
Our spinal vertebrae contain gel-filled discs in between them which act as shock absorbers along with facilitating movement of the spine. Any damage or injury to the spine causes a disc to bulge, where it gets pushed backwards into the spinal canal or often bulges on either side of the spinal canal. In such cases, patient will have tingling and pain on only one side of the body. A disc bulge resembles a hamburger which is too big for the bun, as the disc extends beyond its normal place. A disc bulge is a common occurrence and is not usually a fatal condition. A disc bulge is often considered a normal part of the spinal disc’s aging process. If the disc bulge is left untreated, then the prolonged disc bulge results in tear of the annular ring, out of which the spinal disc protrudes, after which this condition is then known as disc herniation. Around 90% of disc bulges occur in the lumbar area or the lower back.
Rest is the best treatment for relieving and reversing a disc bulge, as our body has the capacity to heal on its own.
What Causes a Disc to Bulge?
- Age related degeneration of the discs where there is wear and tear of the discs can cause a disc to bulge.
- Other degenerative diseases such as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis can also cause a disc to bulge.
- Disc bulge can also be a result of trauma or injury to the neck or spine.
- Loss of flexibility and mobility in the spine.
- Obesity or overweight.
- Increased inflammation from sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, drug use, smoking and increased stress.
- Not using the correct technique when exercising can also cause a disc to bulge.
- Excessive strain to the neck and back occurring as a result of the patient’s occupation.
- Poor posture can also cause a disc to bulge.
- According to research, tall people are at a higher risk for a disc bulge.
Can a Disc Bulge be Reversed?
Treatment of a disc bulge mostly comprises of medications and physical therapy. If these don’t work, then invasive procedures are tried, such as steroid injections and surgery of the spine. Physical therapy helps a lot in relieving the symptoms of a disc bulge, such as pain and discomfort and even reversing the disc bulge. Conservative treatment is tried before anything else, as it can help a lot in treating and reversing a disc bulge.
Conservative Approach for Treating and Reversing a Disc Bulge
About half of the disc bulges heal within six months and only about 10% of the disc bulges require surgery. So, the good news is that conservative treatment for a disc bulge helps in treating as well as reversing the disc bulges.
Rest: It is important that patient take proper rest and sleep and avoid any activities which will further aggravate the disc bulge and its symptoms. Many minor disc bulges can heal on their own with rest and other conservative treatment.
Ice & Moist Heat Application: Ice application where the ice is wrapped in a towel or an ice pack for about 20 minutes to the affected region, thrice a day, helps in relieving the symptoms of a disc bulge. Heat application in the later stages of treatment also provide the same benefit.
Cervical Pillow: It is important to use the right pillow to give your neck the right type of support for healing from a cervical disc bulge and also to improve the quality of sleep.
Herbal Remedies: There are various herbal supplements, such as capsaicin cream, which can be used for symptom relief from a disc bulge.
Hot Bath: Taking a hot bath or shower also helps in dulling the pain from a disc bulge. Epsom salts or essential oils can be added to a hot bath. They will help in soothing the inflamed region.
Over the Door Traction: This is a very effective treatment for a disc bulge. It helps in relieving muscle spasms and pain. Typically a 5 to 10 pound weight is used and it is important that patient do this under medical guidance.
Mild Exercises: Range of motion exercises helps in improving the range of motion of neck and spine along with strengthening the spinal muscles and preventing development of stiffness in the spine.
Treatment & Reversal of a Disc Bulge with Physical Therapy
Patient should get physical therapy done by a licensed and experienced physical therapist. Tests, including nerve tests, will be done on the patient to determine the type of physical therapy suitable for the patient. The patient’s posture, standing and sitting positions are also examined. The soft tissues surrounding the spine are also examined to look for abnormal temperature, texture and tenderness for detecting any irritation, inflammation and muscle spasms. Physical therapy combines therapeutic exercises, pain control techniques, massage therapy and functional training practices, which help the patient by:
- Physical therapy helps in easing the disc bulge to revert back to its normal position and in alleviating the inflammation and pain.
- Physical therapy helps in increasing the blood circulation, oxygen and nutrients to the spine.
- Physical therapy helps in gently pushing the disc bulge back into its normal position in the spinal canal thus tries to reverse the process of the disc bulge.
- Physical therapy strengthens the back and abdominal muscles, which provide enhanced support to the spine along with increasing spinal flexibility and strength.
- The stretching and strengthening exercises of physical therapy helps in improving the spinal range of motion, flexibility and strength.
- Egoscue is a type of postural therapy, which is a series of gentle and targeted exercises that help in correcting musculoskeletal dysfunctions and other compensations which increase the risk of spinal injuries.
- Physical therapy also helps in strengthening the back muscles which helps in preventing future injuries.
- Physical therapy also helps in developing and maintaining a good posture.
Techniques of Physical Therapy for Treating and Reversing a Disc Bulge
Some of the common physical therapy techniques for relieving and reversing a disc bulge consist of:
- Traction machine is used to apply traction to the spine which gently pulls on the muscles and joints and helps in easing the disc bulge back into its normal place.
- Joint mobilization can be achieved by applying varying degrees of pressure to the spinal joints.
- Electrical stimulation can also be used for relieving muscle spasms and pinched nerves.
- Ultrasound device is used for sending high-frequency sound waves to the affected region. This helps in increasing blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to the affected disc region and helps in relieving the symptoms of a disc bulge.
- Infrared light therapy is another beneficial and effective treatment for treating the symptoms of a disc bulge. Daily use of an infrared heating pad for half an hour helps in relieving back pain for several hours without using any medication. Ordinary heating pads only heat the skin’s surface, whereas infrared heating pads penetrate deep into the tissues and are safe to use as it carries no risk of burns, skin drying etc.
- Far infrared (FIR) therapy is invisible to the naked eye and these rays can penetrate deep into the human body and improve the blood circulation in the affected region. This results in immediate pain relief along with boosting the healing process of a disc bulge.
- Stretching exercises help in relieving and reversing the disc bulge along with increasing strength and flexibility of the spine.
- Proper posture of the body should be used for daily activities, such as bending, washing and taking out the garbage.
- It is also important to rest and avoid any physical activity which aggravates the condition.
- Soft tissue massage also helps in relieving the symptoms of a disc bulge. Massage helps in relaxing the tight muscles, increasing blood circulation and also increasing the production of endorphins. However, the use of massage therapy in treatment of disc bulge or other disc problems is controversial and should be used with caution after doctor’s approval.
- Acupuncture is an alternative therapy which uses tiny needles that unleash the natural flow of energy in the body. Acupuncture help in relieving the symptoms of a disc bulge.
- Therapeutic massage along with heating packs applied on the affected region help in easing the stiffness and inflammation from a disc bulge. It is important to be careful when using heat application. Heat should be avoided in the acute phase of any injury.
Spinal Decompression Therapy for Reversing a Disc Bulge in the Lower Back
For naturally healing or reversing a disc bulge, the space between the vertebrae needs to be increased. This encourages the bulged disc to revert back to its normal position. Increasing the intervertebral space also helps in rehydrating the disc, which in turn encourages the natural healing process of the affected spinal region along with decreasing any lower back pain, as the pain occurs as a result of nerve compression leading to inflammation of the lower back. If the pressure is relieved by increasing the intervertebral space, then the pain also gets relieved. Spinal decompression is the name of the process, which helps you achieve this without any medication or surgery and allows the body to naturally heal on its own.
Different body positions affect the type of pressure exerted on our spinal discs. When a person is sitting, there is about 50% of increased pressure on the back compared to when standing in the right posture. When a person is lying down, there is still around 25% of the standing body pressure on the spine because of the ligaments and muscles that support our back. Gravity decompression done at an angle where about 60% of our body weight stretches the spine and its vertebrae decreases the pressure on the discs to almost a nil.
Spinal decompression can be done by 2 methods:
Inversion Therapy: An inversion table can be used for spinal decompression and it helps in brining great pain relief in many patients in less than a minute of its use. Long-term benefits of Inversion Therapy is that it helps in relaxation of the back muscles, elongation of the spine so that there is more space for the discs to reverse back to their normal position . It is important that the discs have adequate space to naturally rehydrate, realign and heal. This will help in shock absorption, spine flexibility and improved posture.
Nubax Trio: This is a portable traction device and it is a very good alternative to inversion tables. It is equally effective in decompressing the spine as an inversion table and is smaller and more portable. Patient needs about 5 minutes of treatment daily on a Nubax Trio where the patient has to lean over this device and relax.
Chiropractic Spinal Adjustments for Treating and Reversing a Disc Bulge
This is an alternative therapy where a chiropractor determines the type of a disc bulge the patient has and helps in diagnosing the underlying cause. After this, the chiropractor performs targeted spinal adjustments, which will help realignment of the spinal discs and reversing the disc bulge. Some of the chiropractic adjustments include flexion-distraction, physiotherapy, muscle stimulation, at-home exercises, stretches and other treatments. Chiropractic adjustments help in relieving the symptoms of a disc bulge, such as neck stiffness, sciatica and chronic low back pain.
Prevention of a Disc Bulge
Stay Active: The longer someone stays active into older age, the lesser the chances of developing spinal injuries, inflammation, stiffness and fragility. Sitting for extended periods of time also causes a disc bulge and worsening of back pain. Inactivity leads to weakening of muscles and increases the pressure on the spine, especially if the patient is overweight. So, it is important to remain as much active as possible, by going for daily walks along with performing core strengthening exercises to prevent disc bulge and low back pain. Staying active also helps in increasing and maintaining strength, flexibility along with protecting the back.
Sleep: If a person overworks his/her muscles, joints and bones; then this leads to inflammation and weakening of the spinal discs. This is why it is important to get appropriate rest and what better way to rest our body than getting sufficient sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep should be everyone’s priority. One should also allow sufficient period of rest between workouts. Sleep is important to keep stress hormones under control, maintain healthy body weight and cut down on the risk for more injuries.
Correct Posture: If you are spending a lot of time working behind a desk, then it becomes very important to maintain the right posture, to get up and stretch frequently, move around and loosen up neck and shoulders. It is important to take breaks every half-an-hour when working at a desk or watching TV for long periods of time. It is important to perform targeted posture exercises to loosen up stiff areas in the body such as neck, lower back and hamstrings. You should also re-train yourself on sitting, walking and driving using the correct posture.
Weight: It is important to maintain appropriate weight and avoid putting on excess weight, as obesity increases the risk for all sorts of diseases including a disc bulge.
Diet: It is important to consume a diet, which fights inflammation, as increased inflammation causes weakening of the muscles, bones and joints leading to increased risk of problems including disc bulge. Inflammation makes it difficult to recover from spinal injuries including disc bulge and aggravates existing symptoms. Following a nutrient-dense diet is one of the best methods to control inflammation. This diet consists of healing foods along with cutting down on intake of unhealthy food items, such as sugar, refined grain products, processed meats, alcohol, chemically sprayed crops and packaged snacks. Maintaining a healthy weight also reduces the burden placed on the spine. Some of the anti-inflammatory foods consist of green leafy vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, fermented foods containing probiotics. To avoid inflammation in the body, it is also important to avoid recreational drugs, smoking, stress and get sufficient sleep.