Bulging vs Degenerative Disc Disease: What is the Connection?
Bulging discs and degenerative disc disease (DDD) can be very painful spinal conditions. The can be a combination of activity level, injuries, and age. Treatment options for both bulging discs and DDD are similar and will often involve a combination of pain medication and movement therapy.
What are bulging discs?
The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae and 23 intervertebral discs. Vertebrae protect the spinal cord and provide structural support to the body. Intervertebral discs have 3 major functions: holding the vertebrae together, acting as shock absorbers, and permitting the spine to bend and twist. When one of the intervertebral discs moves or swells out of place, this is called a bulging disc. Bulging discs press on nerves surrounding the spine, resulting in pain and discomfort. Bulging discs can be caused by age-related factors or extreme activity.
What is degenerative disc disease?
Over time, nearly every adult will experience deterioration of intervertebral discs. This is to be expected with increased age. When the deterioration becomes painful, the condition is known as degenerative disc disease. Age, activity level, and the drying out of intervertebral discs are all factors that can lead to disc deterioration. While it is not possible to prevent degenerative disc disease, it is possible to prevent the disabling symptoms.
Similarities and differences?
Both can be caused by age or activity. Both can affect all areas of the spine. The main difference is that degenerative disc disease can cause bulging discs, but the reverse is not always a guarantee. An individual may experience one or many bulging discs without ever developing DDD. Additionally, an individual may experience DDD without ever having a bulging disc. The line between similarities and differences is very thin. Each can be symptoms and causes of the other.
Lifestyle modifications, exercise, and a healthy diet are key towards maintaining a healthy body and spine. Surgery is only needed in the most severe cases. Doctors will likely recommend a treatment plan of pain medication, stress relief such as massages, and specialized physical therapy. Movement is key to strengthening the back muscles.
Bulging discs and degenerative disc diseases affect the spine and can make everyday life very difficult. Bulging discs can affect all ages, while DDD is reserved mostly for the older generation. Reversing the effects of a bulging disc is possible, but DDD effects can only be slowed down. Treatments are similar and will likely involve pain medication and movement therapy.