Herniated vs Bulging Disc: Understanding the Difference

Herniated vs Bulging Disc

When investigating the causes of possible back pain, you’ve probably come across the terms “herniated disc” and “bulging discs.” These conditions are one of the most common sources of back pain, and yet, people use them interchangeably as they struggle to understand the difference between the two.

However, there is a difference between a herniated vs bulging disc, and that’s what you’ll be learning today.

Herniated vs Bulging Disc

Spinal disks have a soft, jellylike center known as the nucleus. The nucleus is encased in a tougher exterior, known as the annulus. Now, when the nucleus pushes through a tear or rupture in the annulus, it becomes herniated.

A herniated disc can compress or irritate any nearby nerve, resulting in pain or numbness. It can also cause weakness in your limbs.

A bulging disc and a herniated disc are quite similar. The difference is that a herniated disc occurs when the spinal disc has completely ruptured. However, a bulging disc is when the spinal disc has suffered some damage and has lead to the nucleus shifting out of its original position.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

Disc degeneration is one of the most common causes of herniation. Over time, as your body ages, your vertebral discs can dehydrate and stiffen, making them less flexible and more susceptible to tearing. Sudden movements such as twisting or turning your back can also lead to a herniated disc, as well as lifting heavy items.

What Causes a Bulging Disc?

Degeneration is also the main cause of a bulging disc. Although, back and neck strain can also lead to a bulging disc, such as making repetitive movements that put pressure on your spine and poor posture. This issue can also arise if your back gets injured in a traffic accident.


Bulging disc vs herniated disc symptoms can be very similar. Both conditions include:

  • Pain throughout limbs, either arms or legs
  • Tingling or burning sensation in the area
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sudden pain after sitting or standing for a long period of time
  • Numbness on one side of the body
  • Increased pain during the night
  • Inability to bend or flex your knees or arms properly

You could either experience one or more of these symptoms. Depending on the progression of your condition, symptoms will be mild or intense.

When to See a Doctor

If you can detect these symptoms early, it’s best to contact a doctor, even if the symptoms are mild. They’ll be able to run exams and tests in order to make an accurate diagnosis and treat you accordingly.

However, if you notice that symptoms worsen with time and you’re beginning to have trouble controlling your bladder or bowels, or numbness and weakness has spread to your genital area, then you should visit your doctor straight away.


There are several alternatives available for treating a herniated or bulging disc. Your doctor might prescribe medications to help reduce inflammation, such as over-the-counter pain medication, cortisone shots, muscle relaxers, and opioids.

Your doctor might also suggest physical or physiotherapy. These therapists know what exercises and positions to help you perform to improve your spinal performance and ease the pain. If none of the treatments listed above have worked, your doctor will suggest getting surgery.

Get Treatment for Your Back

Now that you have come to learn the differences between a herniated vs bulging disc, you can analyze your symptoms and determine whether or not you might be experiencing this issue and get medical attention if necessary.

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