The “Disc Bulge” and what it means for your Back Pain
When you hear the words “disc bulge” you probably think, “my back will never be the same again”, “how will I ever recover from this?” or “will I be in pain forever?” These are the questions and concerns that physical therapists work through every day. We have the training and knowledge to assure you that you will get better.
First things first, let’s clarify some terms. A disc bulge is a type of disc herniation, meaning that we cannot classify all disc problems that way. A herniation simply means that there is disc matter that has made its way outside the vertebral column for whatever reason. In addition, to classifying a disc herniation as a “disc bulge” we can use other terms based on the location and shape of the displacement.
Chances are that if you know you have a disc herniation, you have had an MRI. Many times, an MRI is scheduled following a medical evaluation for back pain. This is a very controversial step. Studies repeatedly show that 80% of adults have some degree of degeneration to their spines, but walk around every day pain-free. Others have pain, but nothing to show on an MRI. Having an MRI gives patients a beautiful picture of the severity of their injury which leads to poor prognoses and negative thoughts about recovery.
60-90% of disc herniations can be successfully treated with conservative treatment. Conservative treatment is physical therapy, exercise and other non-surgical interventions. That means it is unlikely that you need surgery to return to your happy, healthy life.
Even more to this point, a 2014 study looked at the probability of disc herniation regression and complete resolution with conservative treatment.
They found that the probability of disc herniation regression was higher in patients with a larger grade herniation and overall, the rate of regression was quite high. These are encouraging findings.
So, what does this mean for patients? A large grade herniation does not prevent you from making a full recovery and there is a good probability that your disc herniation will regress with physical therapy. No matter the severity of your disc injury, conservative treatment remains your best option for achieving a pain-free life.