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Understanding Disc Bulges

The spinal cord is made up of a variety of structures which help stabilize, control and support the rest of the body. Structures include the vertebral body which takes up a large portion of the spine, the spinous processes which help support the spinal column, the spinal cord which is responsible for all our actions and information sent and received through ourbody and the intervertebral disc.

This section of writings will be addressing the intervertebral disc which has been getting a lot of attention lately in regards to the injuries it sustains. The injuries can range from a disc bugle in where the fluid from the disc has diverted outwards from the centre line of the body, or outside the annulus ring. A herniated disc is the more progressive form of the disc bulge where there is more protrusion from the normal alignment of the disc. The purpose of intervertebral disc is mainly shock absorption for the protection of the spine.

Under further look of the disc it is broken up into the nucleus and the annulus. As you can see the annulus is the outer rim of the disc which is primarily of collagen fibres where the centre of the disc (the nucleus polposus) is made up of primarily of water to be able to equally distribute the force through the disc. The disc also helps with the proprioceptive feedback and your range of motion helping give stability and awareness to the whole body and where it is in space and in relation to itself. As we grow older there is a gradual dehydration of the nucleus polposus leading to the annulus undergoing more responsibility for load control (VanGelder, Hoogenboom & Vaughn, 2013). This may be a leading reason as to why the population experiences more herniations as they get older.

It has been found that the most common vertebral level of herniation or injury is the L4-5 intersection of the spine followed by the L5-S1 intersection. This may be due to our biomechanics of human movements as when we bend over to pick-up/place/move something, most the strain of flexion or hinging comes around that level or vertebrae.  It has been found that a large proportion of people with disc bulges may experience sciatica which is identified as nerve pain down the back of their leg. This may be due to the compression of the nerve route leaving the spine (Boos et al., 1995) or as you can see in the picture above.

There has been some evidence that suggest disc bulging doesn’t always mean that the person will experience pain due to that reason alone as Saleem et al., 2013 have compared asymptomatic with symptomatic population to find that people with the same morphological changes experience very different symptoms or even no symptoms at all compared to those that had been diagnosed with some sort of disc injury. The only link that could be clinically found in this study is that the amount of nerve route compromised from the bulge and psychosocial factors around the individual were helpful in identifying between symptomatic and asymptomatic people (Saleem et al., 2013).

In conclusion, being able to identify possible injury risks in relation to age, level of awareness and stresses placed through the body will help minimize occurrence of injury. Also being aware that identification or diagnosis isn’t always helpful or responsible for the pain the person is feeling.

How can we help?

If you have a disc bulge or herniation and want to start exercises to help manage the pain and discomfort to help correct the disc bulge. Contact us at Ex Phys Australia on 1300 869 169 or email us at

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