Disc Bulge and Disc Degeneration (Degenerative Disc Disease)
A disc bulge is not the same as a disc herniation. Disc bulge is simply the result of aging or gradual degeneration of the disc. The softer center of the disc shrinks so the disc “collapses” or sags, if you will, and the outer part has to go somewhere so it bulges out a little.
About the Illness
Degeneration of the disc can cause the spaces in the backbone narrow, forming pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This is referred to as spinal stenosis. While narrowing of the spine can occur anywhere in the backbone, symptoms including numbness, tingling, and weakness are generally similar regardless of location.
What is most important to understand about bulges is that they represent overall disc degeneration. I have seen this in teenagers but mostly in people past the age of 30 or so. It is believed that disc degeneration is the most common cause of back pain. The most challenging part of treating this problem is that symptoms vary greatly based on the individual. Many people can have terribly degenerative disc changes without ever presenting significant back pain, while others will have minimal disc changes and terrible pain. The exact way this causes back pain for some and not others is not currently understood.
As with disc herniation, we almost always strive to treat this problem with non-operative means.
For many people with this problem, the symptoms of back pain will be episodic and usually respond to simple measures. It is when the back pain is constant and disruptive to your lifestyle that we start to consider Spinal Fusion.