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Jonathan Cluett, M.D.

Is a 'disc bulge' a serious problem?

By July 20, 2007

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Many patients with back pain will have an MRI test performed if their symptoms persist. The MRI may include findings that are clearly the cause of the symptoms, or the MRI may include findings that are normal.

A critical study investigating MRIs found that "normal" patients, patients with no symptoms of back pain, often have "abnormal" MRIs. In fact, the study found that disc degeneration or bulging is seen in at least one third of patients in their 20s and 30s. In patients over 60 years old, disc degeneration or bulging is seen in almost every patient studied...and these are patients with no back pain.

This is not to say that MRIs are not helpful, but just because an MRI is "abnormal" does not mean that there is necessarily a problem. As people age, disc degeneration and disc bulging are normal findings. Just as people find a few grey hairs, or a few skin wrinkles, the spinal discs show signs of aging, often as early as people's 20s and 30s. Determining if an abnormal finding is a cause of your back pain depends on your symptoms and examination findings.

Sources: Boden, SD, et al. "Abnormal magnetic-resonance scans of the lumbar spine in asymptomatic subjects. A prospective investigation" J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1990 Mar;72(3):403-8.

Comments
June 3, 2008 at 8:40 pm
(1) Dawna says:

does a bulging disc continue to give problems and how long? two years ago I fell and injure two disc’s l4 and l5. Im still having problems with my back. my brother and farther have deteriating disc. my brother just went threw back surgery in july. it took 11 hours. could this be whats going on with me, wit
h the injury I had and my lower back still hurting and pinching, and going down my leg?

June 7, 2008 at 7:45 pm
(2) brenda says:

I went on vacation 2 weeks ago to mexico. We decided to take a bus ride into town, i think may be the driver was late for an appointment as he was driving very fast on a cobled stone street.I hurt my back from banging back and forth, That evening the lower part of my back started to ack, during the night the pain increased with intensesaty, I could not lye flat for the pain in the lower part of my back, i could not sit in an upright position becuse pain was shoting in to my buttocks, i could not stand becuse i felt pain shooting up from my heels in to my lags, i am still in pain, what is wrong with me?

June 20, 2008 at 2:12 pm
(3) Christina says:

I am a 19 year old female. I have mild scoliosis and spinia bifida occulta and believe I have a slipped disk on top of that. When I was 15 and was having back pain I had an MRI. They found a bulging disk, but nothing to worry about. I just rested at home and my back was better. Now I am having the worst pain in my life and my lower lumbar region with shooting/achy pain down my legs, sometimes tingaly. I also am starting sciatic scoliosis (I’m leaning to my right and walking funny) It also hurts to move, sit, stand, cough, sneeze..anything.The hospital I keep trying to get answers from just gave me a back brace and aleve and told me to go home 3 times (once with my primary care provider and twice at the ER) with no x rays or mri. What is your opinion on my condition and what should I do now?

June 27, 2008 at 9:08 pm
(4) Robert L. Knight says:

On 11 Jan 08 my vehicle was rear ended by another vehicle. Initiallly I felt fine but after 5 min I began to feel a tingling in my back and leg also weakness. I was transported to the hosp and cked out. Nothing severe was noted at that time, given meds for pain and released. I continued to have problems as I followed up with my Doctor still taking meds for the pain. I then purchased a back massager even equiped with heat. The pain eventually subsided then I felt it had gone. I began walking more and felt really good.
The first week of June I began to feel minor discomfort in my left leg and lower back. Then thr 7th of June came, as I left for work I experience pain like I’d ever and took my self to the emergency room. Eventually after several visits to the doctor, numerous medications to include steroids an MRI revealed what the doctor descrbed a servere herniated disc. I immediately accepted his offer of surgery on the 7th of July since it appeared all options had been explored. I’m looking forward to the day that I no longer have to live with the pain.
My question is could the vehicle accident start me on this road in January?

June 27, 2008 at 9:08 pm
(5) Robert L. Knight says:

On 11 Jan 08 my vehicle was rear ended by another vehicle. Initiallly I felt fine but after 5 min I began to feel a tingling in my back and leg also weakness. I was transported to the hosp and cked out. Nothing severe was noted at that time, given meds for pain and released. I continued to have problems as I followed up with my Doctor still taking meds for the pain. I then purchased a back massager even equiped with heat. The pain eventually subsided then I felt it had gone. I began walking more and felt really good.
The first week of June I began to feel minor discomfort in my left leg and lower back. Then thr 7th of June came, as I left for work I experience pain like I’d ever and took my self to the emergency room. Eventually after several visits to the doctor, numerous medications to include steroids an MRI revealed what the doctor descrbed a servere herniated disc. I immediately accepted his offer of surgery on the 7th of July since it appeared all options had been explored. I’m looking forward to the day that I no longer have to live with the pain.
My question is could the vehicle accident start me on this road in January?

October 20, 2008 at 6:55 pm
(6) Shirly Cox says:

My back is very painful since July 2008 and is going down my leg and numbness in my toes.
Doing physical therapy,exercises and heat and NSAID’s and TYlenlol3..Waiting for MRI in 5 months…Any recommendations and I cannot work..The pain is gettting worse and I cannot sit at all..
Shirly

November 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm
(7) manikandan says:

I had right leg pain, I went to doctor and followed by MRI & the result showes
1)Disc herniation @ L5/S1 with right centrolateral,anterrior exit foraminal nerve root impingement (S1)
Evedence of ligamentum flavum & facetal joint hypertrohy @ L4/L5 & L5/S1

Advice me is it cureable or will it be life long

June 28, 2009 at 12:01 am
(8) Nadine says:

I just found out that I have a L2 L3 bulging disc. The biggest problem I am having is my feet burn like fire. I have been reading this whole article and have seen no other person that has burning feet. I do have back pain, but my feet are the worst problem. Can anyone help me.

September 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm
(9) Activitst says:

I went to Carew Chiropractor. Without tingling in my leg. On my third appt he pushed real hard on my lower back. I had tingling and numbness in my foot. I got surgery. Now it is good no pain. Say away from chiro’s. I think they are the cause of so many disc protrusion

February 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm
(10) regina says:

I am 30 years old and have been going through this pain for 2 years now i have a bulging hernaited disc in my neck will it ever go away and is it curable

March 13, 2010 at 1:27 am
(11) Anita says:

I was diagnosed with a very mild form of thorsiac scolisis in 2007. I then had a episode of severe low back pain which I felt that it had locked up. Around that time. X Rays were done and was told that my lumbar spine had lost it’s natural curvature and was totaly flat. By the summer of 2009, I was in constant pain in my lower back. One day I noticed that I was having some pretty bad pain in my left leg. When I mentioned this to my doctor, my reflxes were tested which showed that I had abnormal reflexes. I was sent for an MRI and it showed a L3 – L4 disc buldge. I’ve done 3 epidurals, physical therapy, and I’m on Muscle relaxers (norflex) and painkillers (vicodin) as well as a TENS unit and everytime I get some relief for a while I’ll wind up in severe pain again. The buldge was mild on the MRI but I’m still having some problems and am not sure where go from here, and I’m only 31 years old.

May 5, 2010 at 4:13 pm
(12) Dee says:

I had a bulging disc at L4-L5 after an accident 30 years ago and have been fine over time, with watching my posturing. I lay in bed mostly on my side, watch stooping and use both legs for lifting of anything, especially back upward. The main pain subsided after about a year and I watch my body mechanics. NSAIDS helped during that time and when I feel a flareup. The ice pack helps reduce swelling then also. No surgery has ever been suggested since I am managing my symptoms. I am fortunate.

May 12, 2010 at 3:31 am
(13) April Bertrand says:

My name is April and I have had DDD sience I was 5 years of age. I had my first opperation at 19 when i was 4 months pregnet for my son. its been 9 years but my back pain is worse then ever and i cant use the washroom and no one will help me nither. I wish some one cared i am a 29 year old women with 2 children and i have a hard time walking and doing every day things some day someone wil care.

November 26, 2011 at 1:50 am
(14) Sharon says:

I have been having pain behind the left thigh and down the leg to the foot. I can’t stand straight; if I do try I’m in excruciating pain and can barely walk. Leg feels like one big knot. Leg and foot are numb. I had a spinal fusion 4 years ago at L4,L5 and S1. Below and above it have bared the brunt of the fusion. Above has been weakened by the fusion and has caused me pain as described. What can I do to alleviate this pain

October 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm
(15) helen says:

hi i had a car accident by a hit and run driver i have now got a anular disc bulge and facing a microdiscomy i have had other procedures none worked , has anyone had this and does anyone drive ?

October 23, 2012 at 8:02 am
(16) James says:

I have a L3 disc bulge causing pain down the front of my leg with most of it in my knee. This could have been a result of Chiropractor adjustment. I had some discomfort in my back before the adjustment. After the adjustment I couldn’t walk or stand for more than 2 minutes. My doc gave steroids. They seem to be working

November 23, 2012 at 8:56 am
(17) Ellen says:

hi i am 20 year old female ,i fell of a horse last year an ever since then the pain in my lower back has got worse everyday until i woke up a few weeks ago and i couldnt walk,i couldnt lie down and i cant sit down i cannot find any comfort in anything i do.,i was diagnosed with a bulgeing disc two days ago and i have been researching so many different methods,i have be advised to do phisiotherapy, the pain is still extremely sore it shoots down my quad into my calve and its starts at the lower part of my back, i am also expierencing a weak bladder were i urinate unknown to myself. i am wondering will this ever heal or will i have this pain for the rest of my life?
Thanks ellen

December 10, 2012 at 4:15 pm
(18) Louise says:

Hi my symptoms came on all of a sudden, with pain in my bum,back and pain down my left leg had an MRI done and result was that I had narrowing of the disc space and lower lumber disc bulge that is pressing on my sciatic nerve which is very painful tried physio accurpuncture painkillers heat packs just waiting to have injection to see if that will help I have tried almost everything to see if I can sort the problem out but as of yet nothing is working this has been a problem now for two years the last resort would be surgery has anyone had any relief with this problem

February 4, 2013 at 4:32 am
(19) joseph buhagiar says:

for lpiuse yes i have the same as you ,i did xtrix and M.R.I. as well but to get rid af all pain you need to go for the m going to do oparation dear like i
m going to do

December 29, 2013 at 1:49 am
(20) ann says:

i have a bungling disc and the surrounding disc are dry on the mir and the doctor thinks surgery can be done to stop the pain , but i have lupus anticoagulant and have had a blood clog in my heart so i really don,t think that is safe . but most say the doctor knows best . well it seems to me that the risks are to great of a heart attack and i can live with pain on medicine so why risk stroke or heart for some thing that can be controlled in a safer way

February 18, 2014 at 4:14 am
(21) harjit says:

bulging disc can cure in 4 weeks by eating Indian herbal medicibe..disc bulge is inside our body and if our body. Can perduced. Outer layer of disc which tears up and cut disc bulge. If that outer layer build up ur disc will be fine ..Hi everyone… 2 years ago I injured my self while doing weight lifting. Did so many thing 2 time. Mri…. And it showed I hv c5 bulgde. I tried everything. Then my dad told me a story of 1983 when he was young… In India. There was a hakeem (herbal docta) he made medicine for him and now my dad is 60. Never hv back problem.I went to. India. And took that medicine but I ate only. One time I still didn’t. Believe. And then I met a guy at work who had 3 disc bulgde.he was telling me that he is having surgery I said try this medicine. And guys. After 1month he was jumping . lol. He thanks me. And. Then Iordered that medicine again for myself

February 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm
(22) Tim says:

I had L4and 5 blog in my back pain in my leg and bad numbness in my feet for a little while. In 5weeks it all went away on its own. The human body is so amazing stop talking all kinds of stuff just let your body have a chance to heal itself.

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