Jan 29

Bulging Disc, Herniated Disc – What’s the Difference?


After a car accident or a work injury, my clients often
discover that they have a bulging disc or herniated disc in their neck or lower
back.  What does that mean?  Is there a difference between the two?  Before we can answer, an understanding of
what a disc is will be important. 

Your spine is made up of bony vertebrae.  In between the vertebrae are the discs.  According to the Mayo Clinic, the discs are composed of an outer layer of tough cartilage that surrounds softer cartilage in the center and act as a cushion between the vertebrae.  They are often analogized to a jelly donut that fits between your vertebrae.

herniated disc compared to normal disc

Discs show signs of wear and tear with age. This is called
degenerative changes.  Over time, discs
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. This
is known as a bulging disc.  It kinda
looks like a hamburger that’s too big for its bun (vertebra). In a bulging
disc, 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
(the jelly of the donut) to protrude out of the disc. There are many similar
names for a herniated disc – protrusion or protruding disc, a ruptured disc, or
a slipped disc. In a herniated disc, only the small area of the crack is
affected, but enough for the inner cartilage to leak out.

Both a herniated disc and a bulging disc can cause pain.
However, 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.

There is no way to determine if a bulging disc or herniated
disc was caused by a car accident or work injury.  Doctors have to look at the films for signs
of degeneration and understand the patient’s symptoms after the car accident or
work injury and investigate whether the patient had similar problems or signs
of a herniated disc before the event. 
Also, the symptoms of a herniated disc may not present themselves immediately
after the car accident. It may take some time for the outer layer to crack
enough for the inner cartilage to protrude.

If you are having neck or lower back pain after a car
accident or work injury, you should talk to your treating doctor about whether
an MRI is appropriate to determine if there is a bulging or herniated
disc.  This is especially true if you are
experiencing numbness or tingling down your arms or legs.

Understanding your injury makes you better able to treat
your injury.


attorney matthew noyes talks herniated disc

Attorneys Matthew Noyes and Lorrie Robinson help families who are impacted by a Tampa Bay car accidents.  Attorney Matthew Noyes even wrote a book on it – Do You Really Need An Attorney After a Car Accident.  If you have questions are a car accident, call Personal Injury Attorney Matthew Noyes at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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