A bulging spinal disc occurs when the disc's soft, jellylike center
(nucleus) is squeezed into cracks in the disc's outer covering, weakening and
stretching that covering. As a disc bulges out from between the neighboring
bones (vertebrae), it can press on nerves that travel to the legs or arms and
can cause numbness, weakness, or pain.
Normally, spinal discs absorb shock and provide flexibility within
the spine. With age, spinal discs break down. They become drier, less flexible,
and more easily damaged. Injury and prolonged overuse or misuse can speed the
formation of tiny tears in a disc's capsule. People who smoke cigarettes are at
increased risk of disc deterioration.
In most cases, symptoms of a bulging disc can be managed with
nonsurgical treatment and will go away over time. In a few cases, surgery is
March 12, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
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