Can Bulging Discs Be Fixed?
Back in 1989, when I first began treating patients with back and neck pain, most people were aware that the bones in their spine were separated by discs (likely a result of effective chiropractic marketing). Unfortunately, due to that same widespread chiropractic marketing, a majority of my patients believed that their discs could “slip” out of place—just like a wayward tomato slice might slip out from a squeezed sandwich, I suppose.
Walking the line between accuracy and over-simplification myself, I will attempt to adequately explain what happens to the discs in your spine to make them part of the pain package you may be experiencing.
Your spinal discs are far more complex than a stack of circles which are prone to “slip out of place”. Instead, they are masterfully engineered structures with a firm outer body (constructed like a radial tire), filled with a soft, gelatinous inner core, and woven snuggly between the bones of our spines—so there is absolutely no way that discs can “slip” out of place! Rather, they undergo an “internal break down” which leads to disc bulging, and they can eventually rupture, or herniate.
Damage to our discs, or degenerative disc disease, begins when we habitually assume bad postures, sit slumped, or endure gross trauma or repetitive micro-trauma (prolonged or heavy lifting, bending, etc.). As a result, our discs develop stress fractures—which run from the inside out (just as the wearing of a radial tire would occur). It’s through these fissured openings that the gelatinous, central portion of our disc begins to migrate outward.
Eventually, the disc may develop a space-occupying bulge (visible via MRI), which can, itself, cause pain, or it can press up against a sensitive nerve, sending pain clear down an arm or leg! If the firm outer edge of the disc becomes torn straight through, then the inner disc “gel” will be released into “free space”, wreaking havoc on all it comes up against.
So now here’s the good news: While fully ruptured (herniated) discs will always leave you with a potentially “weak link” in your spine, bulging discs can be fully healed. And from my experience, patients with both conditions can often be rehabilitated to live highly functioning, pain-free lives!