Spinal Disc Bulge or Herniation: What’s the Difference?

The spinal discs often get overlooked when we think about spinal health – for many, a chiropractor’s job is to take care of the spinal bones (vertebra), and while this certainly isn’t wrong, we’re actually very much concerned with disc health, not least because disc problems are some of the most common (and most painful!)


Why Discs are important

The bones, discs, ligaments, and muscles of your spine are designed to help you maintain proper spinal alignment, posture, and movement – think for a second about how much movement we need and expect from our spines – can you think of any other structure in the body which need to move this much?!

In order to facilitate this kind of movement, the spinal vertebra are separated by a small rubbery disc. These discs do exactly what you might expect – they act as small shock absorbers for your spinal bones and nerves. They have a tough, rubber-like outer layer called the annulus fibrosis and a soft jelly-like centre that is called the nucleus pulposus.

When the spine is healthy and in good alignment, force is distributed evenly across each disc, allowing the spine to work effectively and, importantly, without pain! As you age, encounter injuries and develop poor posture (often due to too much time spent at a desk) the curve of your spine may fall out of alignment – as you might imagine, less than optimal alignment can place uneven stress on your spinal column and discs, increasing the chance of having a disc break down and, eventually herniate.


Herniation vs Bulging

A disc herniation occurs when the outer portion of the disc ruptures (or tears) and the soft inner portion squeezes out. This type of injury can cause two main problems – the first is pain at the site of herniation, the second (often more painful) problem occurs if the herniated disc pinches a nearby nerve, causing pain that can radiate down into your arms and legs. Similarly, a disc bulge occurs when the outer wall of the disc is weakened, but the inner portion has not yet broken through. Bulging discs don’t tend to produce much pain themselves, but it’s again possible that this condition can pinch a nerve, leading to pain, numbness or weakness which can radiate through the spine itself and may affect the arms or legs.


Treating Herniated and Bulging discs

Thankfully, both herniated and bulging discs can be treated – some cases do end up requiring minor surgery, but the prognosis for the condition is good when properly managed. Chiropractic, of course, also has an excellent track record when it comes to treating bulging and herniated discs. Studies have shown that over 90% of people with a lumbar disc herniation that were treated with spinal adjustments improved within 3 months, and 88% improved within 1 year[1].  Perhaps even more impressive was another study, which indicated that, for disc herniations in the neck, 86% of people found relief with Chiropractic adjustments compared with less the 50% of people who opted for a spinal injection.[2]


Need help with a herniated, or bulging disc?

If you’re suffering from a herniated or bulging disc, or the symptoms we’ve mentioned here sound familiar to you, a visit to the chiropractor might be an excellent step. Since 1999 we’ve helped literally thousands of people overcome back and neck pain of all sorts, including that caused by bulging and herniated discs. If you’d like to learn more about chiropractic don’t wait – get in touch today!



[1] Outcomes of acute and chronic patients with magnetic resonance imaging-confirmed symptomatic lumbar disc herniations receiving high-velocity, low-amplitude, spinal manipulative therapy: a prospective observational cohort study with one-year follow-up.

[2] Symptomatic, Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Confirmed Cervical Disk Herniation Patients: A Comparative-Effectiveness Prospective Observational Study of 2 Age- and Sex-Matched Cohorts Treated With Either Imaging-Guided Indirect Cervical Nerve Root Injections or Spinal Manipulative Therapy.



Blog by / August 1, 2021 / Blog

Dr. Paul Irvine is a doctor of chiropractic who graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of NSW and in 1996, attained his Master of Chiropractic degree from Macquarie University in Australia. He practised in North Sydney for 5 years before he left Australia to travel and practise in the UK. He joined Complete Chiropractic in 2003 (est 1999) and took over the clinic in 2007