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Why Is There a Difference Between a Bulging Disc and a Herniated Disc?

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Spinal discs act as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. They’re composed of an outer layer of tough cartilage that surrounds softer cartilage in the center. It may help to think of them as miniature jelly doughnuts, exactly the right size to fit between your vertebrae.

Spinal discs show signs of wear and tear with age. Over time, disks dehydrate and their cartilage stiffens. These changes can cause the outer layer of the disk to bulge out fairly evenly all the way around its circumference, kind of like a squishy toy under pressure when you squeeze it, the sides squeeze out

A bulging disc doesn’t always affect the entire perimeter of a disc, but at least a quarter if not half of the disc’s circumference is usually affected. Only the outer layer of tough cartilage is involved.

A herniated disc, on the other hand, results when a crack in the tough outer layer of cartilage allows some of the softer inner cartilage to protrude out of the disc. Herniated discs are also called ruptured disks or slipped discs, although the whole disc does not rupture or slip. Only the small area of the crack is affected.

Compared with a bulging disc, a herniated disc is more likely to cause pain because it generally protrudes farther and is more likely to irritate nerve roots. The irritation can be from compression of the nerve or, much more commonly, the herniation causes a painful inflammation of the nerve root.

If an imaging test indicates that you have a herniated disc, that disc might not be the cause of your back pain. Many people have MRI evidence of herniated discs and have no back pain at all.

If you have been a victim of someone else’s negligence and have suffered a disc injury call Alex R. Hernandez Jr. today, we may be able to help. 361-454-1000

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