My doctor says I have a bulging disc in my back, what can I do?

Back pain is one of the most common types of pain that people chronically experience and one of the most common reasons someone comes into Scottsdale Sports Medicine Institute. As frustrating as the pain is, people often get more frustrated with wide range of terms used to describe spinal disc problems. Back pain can be classified as ruptured discs, bulging discs, slipped discs, collapsed discs, disc protrusions, disc disease, and others, all adding to more confusion. To better understand bulging disc back pain, let’s look at what spinal discs are, what they do for our backs and how to develop the best treatment plan.

  • The disc-shaped strong tissue found in between each vertebrae, plays a crucial role in the function of the lower back, and are often described as “shock absorbers” for the spine
  • When a discs loses fluid and pliability, and is essential moved from its normal space, pain and discomfort occurs, which is why it is called a bulging disc
  • Bulging discs can occur with or without an injury and is more common as we age
  • Severity of the bulging discs is linked to the wide range of symptoms experienced
  • Common symptoms include: dull, sharp and/or achy low back pain, weakness, numbness and tingling, and muscle spasms
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) can cause radicular pain
  • Radicular pain is a type of pain that radiates into the lower extremities directly along the course of a spinal nerve root and is often related to compression of the spinal nerve (think Sciatica)
  • Common symptoms include: numbness, tingling, pain that radiates down the back of the thigh, changes in bowel/bladder function and changes in reflexes
  • Diagnosis is made through a thorough history and physical exam
  • Imaging such as x-rays and MRI can be helpful in determining the overall wear and tear of the spine
  • Treatment includes a step approach from conservative treatments
  • Exercise (read more about yoga and back pain here), physical therapy, stretching and strengthening the muscles in an appropriate way to help to unload the spine to allow the disc to rest and ideally heal
  • Other options include medications, anti-inflammatory injections, electrical stimulation, and manual manipulation
  • Surgery might be an option for those who have failed other treatments

If you suffer from bulging disc back pain (or any kind of back pain), make sure you get an accurate diagnosis before treating the symptoms of a problem. Don’t make the mistake of not knowing the source of the pain and then cause more damage with no treatment or the wrong treatment. Though bulging discs are very common don’t let that get in your way of remaining active and healthy.

Disclaimer:  Articles are based on real cases seen at Scottsdale Sports Medicine. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only. Please consult your medical professional for individualized healthcare.

Bickley, L. S. (2013). Bates’ guide to physical examination and history taking (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Campbell, W.B. (2011). Bulging Intervertebral Disc of the Lumbar Spine. Imaging of Pain. Saunders, Philadelphia. Pp. 119-120, ISBN 9781437709063. Retrieved from