The main difference between a bulge and a herniated disc is the severity of the damage to the intervertebral disc. 

A protrusion is the first stage in the formation of a herniated intervertebral disc. Under the influence of degenerative processes, the disc shifts slightly. But it does not rupture the fibrous ring. It is extremely important to seek medical help at this stage. As with protrusion, doctors can use a whole range of treatment measures. Most of cases, they produce the desired effect. It is only rarely possible to restore the normal condition of a disc with a protrusion. For example, it can be after a serious injury.

There is a perception that protrusion is non-critical. And it does not always need treatment. This is not true. Protrusion is an indicator of a degenerative and progressive process in the spine. If we consider other features of bulging disc vs herniated, protrusion develops and subsequently leads to a hernia, and it is much more difficult to treat. 

As mentioned above, with a protrusion the disc shifts, but the fibrous ring remains intact. If the patient is not treated, the protrusion develops into an extrusion. That is, the ring bursts, and the intervertebral disc protrudes outward. This is a hernia.

bulging disc

What Is a Bulging Disc?

Intervertebral disc protrusion is a pathology. It usually goes with the “bulging” of the intervertebral disc into the spinal canal, a type of hernia. A neurologist or neurosurgeon diagnoses and treats the condition.

Bulging of the disc is a consequence of the development of osteochondrosis. Intervertebral discs lose moisture, elasticity, and decrease in size. This happens because of degenerative-dystrophic processes in the structure of the spine. All this leads to the appearance of their surface microcracks. Instability develops in a particular segment of the spine. When the affected intervertebral disc of its fibrous ring through the defects formed bulges in the spinal canal. It provokes the appearance of characteristic symptoms. Usually, such a hernia does not exceed 5 mm in size and is not accompanied by rupture of the fibrous ring. 

Depending on the location in the frontal plane, protrusions are:

  • medial (median);
  • posterior (lateral);
  • paramedian;
  • foraminal.

Bulging of the disc is the first stage of intervertebral hernia formation. 

Ignoring the clinical picture leads to its progression to the following forms:

  • Extrusion. In this case the disc bulge becomes more pronounced. There are minor tears in the fibrous ring and degeneration of the nucleus pulposus. But, the integrity of the posterior longitudinal ligament is preserved.
  • Prolapse. Fragments of the damaged nucleus pulposus prolapse through large defects.
  • Sequestration. There is a direct displacement of fragments inside the cavity of the spinal canal.

What Are The Symptoms of a Bulging Disc?

The clinical picture of intervertebral disc protrusion depends on:

    • the size of the protrusion;
    • its localization. 

Common ancillary clinical signs of bulging of the disc are:

  • Impairment of tactile sensitivity. The patient may complain of a feeling of:
  1. crawling “goosebumps” on the skin;
  2. numbness of certain parts of the body.
  • Loss of muscle strength. Against this background, there is a general weakness and decreased ability to work.
  • Respiratory disorders.
  • Pain in the heart.
  • Impaired peristalsis.
  • Urinary disorders (with lumbar spinal protrusion).
Herniated Disc

What is a Herniated Disc?

Bulging of the disc  reduces the pressure between the vertebrae. A herniation is the process by which their nuclei bulge into the spinal canal. It happens because the fibrous ring is destroyed. Normally it surrounds the disc and distributes the pressure evenly. If it collapses on one side, the nucleus of the intervertebral disc protrudes.

Pain occurs because of the pinching of nerve roots near the vertebrae. The pain is not concentrated in the damaged area of the back but can also go to the arm or leg. It occurs because of the connection of the nerve fibers with the spinal cord. 

A herniated intervertebral disc can develop at any part of the spine. A shooting or pulling pain, say the localization at the site of cartilage destruction. The area may enlarge and begin to hurt more when you move. 

What Are The Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

In addition, the following symptoms indicate herniation vs disc protrusion:

  • Aching pain in the extremities, shoulders, or chest;
  • Reduced mobility of the spine;
  • Decreased sensitivity and weakness in the muscles in the legs or arms;
  • Neurological disorders: headaches, insomnia, changes in blood pressure, weakness, dizziness;
  • Disorders of the function of the genitourinary system and the intestines.

Treatment for bulging and herniated disc

The doctor comprehensively carries out the treatment of both diseases. After a thorough diagnosis, the doctors develop the therapy. They take into account many features of the hernia or protrusion, as well as the patient’s body as a whole.

The doctor prescribes therapeutic massage to relieve swelling and inflammation for bulging disc vs herniated. They carry out physiotherapeutic procedures, such as magnetotherapy. The doctor may assign the patient to work on simulators. It help to restore the full functioning of the musculoskeletal system. LFC helps strengthen the muscular corset of the back, returning muscle tone. The doctor uses medication to:

Bulging Disc Treatment

Metameric methods of treatment have proven their effectiveness. Metameric massage can:

  • cut spasms and pain;
  • improves blood circulation;
  • normalizes the nutrition of the intervertebral discs with useful substances and fluid. 

Metameric injections are also be used, allowing direct treatment of the affected areas.

There are many effective methods for bulging of the disc . It is important to develop a treatment regimen properly, selecting the correct combinations. The specialists at the All Injury Rehab will conduct a thorough diagnosis and then develop a therapy tailored to the individual characteristics of the patient. Between courses of metameric injections, the patient can perform treatment at home. If the patient adheres to the doctor’s recommendations, they can restore the function of the intervertebral disc.

Herniated Disc treatment

If necessary, the doctor prescribes bed rest for the duration of treatment. The medicinal treatment involves using the drugs described above. The doctor prescribes acupressure and acupuncture for patients. They use metameric methods of treatment, including massage and injections.

Once the pain syndrome is relieved, the patient can proceed to physical therapy and other motor therapies. If the patient sought help soon after discovering the symptoms, conservative treatment yields results in about 85-90% of cases. If conservative treatment did not produce the desired effect, surgical intervention becomes necessary. Surgeons perform surgery only as a last resort.

To avoid the operating table, it is important to monitor the condition of your spine, listening to the “signals”. This is especially true for people after the age of 40. At the bulging of the disc stage, it is easiest to eliminate the problem, but a hernia is not a verdict either. It is important to find an experienced doctor who has access to modern methods of diagnosis and treatment. A protrusion or hernia is a relatively nonthreatening condition if treated correctly. The specialists at All Injury Rehab the know how to do this.


What is worse: disc bulge or herniation?

Both disc bulge and herniation can cause significant discomfort and pain, but the severity and symptoms may vary depending on the individual case.

How do you know if you have a bulging disc or a herniated disc?

To determine if you have a bulging disc or a herniated disc, a medical professional would typically conduct a thorough examination, which may include imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans, and consider your symptoms and medical history.

Is a disc bulge serious?

The seriousness of a disc bulge can vary depending on the specific circumstances, but it has the potential to cause significant pain and discomfort and may require medical attention or treatment.

Can a protrusion become a hernia?

Yes. But not always a herniated disc is a consequence of a protrusion. The fibrous ring can rupture due to an injury, a fall, or the sudden lifting of a heavy object. It is necessary to see a doctor in such a case, and not only because the condition reduces the quality of life.