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Causes of Bulging Discs

A bulging disc is a condition that occurs when the “cushioning” discs of cartilage located between the vertebrae degenerate. 

Each intervertebral disc has two parts:

  • The annulus fibrosus: this is the outer “wall” of the disc, made of multiple layers of cartilaginous fibers. 
  • The nucleus pulposus: this is the softer, gel-like core of the disc.

Due to natural wear and tear, injury, or excessive pressure, the annulus fibrosus may become weaker and start to bulge beyond the edges of the vertebrae. A good analogy to use to visualize this condition is a flat tire that bulges out from the edge of the wheel.



Bulging or herniated discs have similar causes, and a bulging disc can turn into a disc herniation if the annulus fibrosus ruptures and the nucleus pulposus begins to leak out. 

The two conditions differ in several ways. Firstly, bulging discs only extend from the edge of the vertebra by 3 millimeters or less, while disc herniations are more severe and protrude further into the nearby spinal cord. Additionally, a bulging disc occurs even if there is no crack or hole in the outer ring of the intervertebral disc. 

Bulging discs may be caused by several factors. Let’s look at these below.


The natural, age-related degeneration of the intervertebral discs is one of the more common causes of disc bulges. As we age, these discs lose hydration and elasticity, which reduces their shock-absorbing ability and causes them to start bulging downward. In this case, bulging discs are considered a degenerative and progressive disease of the spine that is likely to affect multiple discs at a time.


A traumatic event can cause the outer ring of the intervertebral disc to stretch beyond capacity and bulge into the nearby spinal cord. Some injuries that may cause this condition include the whiplash of a car crash or a sudden and forceful twisting motion.

Repeated Stress

Certain activities or movements can speed up the degeneration of the intervertebral discs, especially in one or more areas of the disc. These include lifting heavy weights, performing twisting or throwing motions, or operating heavy machinery.

Being Overweight

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for degenerative conditions of the spine, including bulging discs. This is because the excess weight cannot be adequately distributed during movement, which leads to the discs losing elasticity and their shock-absorbing power. Over time, this can lead to bulging discs as well as disc tears or herniations.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Sitting for long periods in the same position puts constant pressure on intervertebral discs, especially the ones located in the lumbar spine (low back). In turn, bulging discs are more common amongst frequent drivers and people with a sedentary lifestyle.

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Symptoms of Bulging Discs

Bulging discs may be symptomatic at first. However, if left untreated, this condition can lead to more severe complications, such as spinal stenosis. 

Spinal stenosis refers to a condition of the spine in which the spinal cord – or the passageway that houses the nerves traveling from the brain to the muscles, limbs, and extremities – becomes compressed or restricted. The disc bulge can start pressing on and irritate the nerves in the spinal cord, which leads to a cascade of symptoms. Let’s look at these below.

Back Pain

When the disc bulge protrudes from the vertebrae and into the spinal cord, it can irritate or pinch nearby nerve roots. This leads to nerve pain that can be described as shooting or burning. The painful sensations may radiate from the area affected – usually the cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) spine – to the arms, hands, buttocks, legs, and feet. It may also lead to sciatica.

Spasms and Cramps

When the spinal cord is restricted by the disc bulge, motor nerves – or the nerves carrying signals relating to movement – may be affected. This leads to involuntary muscle movements such as spasms, cramps, or fasciculations.

Numbness and Tingling

If the sensory nerves in the spinal cord are damaged or irritated by the disc bulge, they may no longer be able to efficiently carry signals relating to touch, pain, temperature, or vibration to the brain. As a result, you might experience numbness in the hands, feet, legs, or arms, often accompanied by tingling and “pins and needles” sensations (known as paresthesia).

Muscle Weakness and Reduced Mobility

When the disc bulge prevents motor signals from reaching the brain, you may experience difficulty in moving your limbs or extremities, and conditions such as foot drop. As a result, you may underuse your muscles, which can translate into further weakness or shrinking of the muscle mass.

Regenerative Treatment Options for Bulging Discs

A bulging disc is a temporary condition that may resolve on its own. Nonetheless, if you are experiencing pain, you should seek adequate treatment straight away. This is because a bulging disc can turn into a disc herniation if the outer ring of the disc becomes cracked. 

Additionally, as the discs continue bulging out, they might interfere with the functioning of the autonomic nerves in the spinal cord – or the nerves control essential functions such as the heartbeat, blood flow, digestion, and bladder and bowel function. 

When it comes down to preventing these complications and regaining your spine health, pain-relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs cannot be considered viable long-term solutions. However, surgery and taking medications are no longer the only two options available. 

Let’s look at the regenerative treatments used at Orthagenex to provide patients with customized treatment programs for bulging discs.

Super-Concentrated PRP for Disc Bulge

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) refers to autologous blood samples that have been processed to have platelet concentrations that are 10-40 times higher than baseline levels using a lab setting. The use of PRP in regenerative medicine has received significant interest, due to its ability to deliver high concentrations of growth factors precisely and non-invasively to an area in need.

PRP procedures involve injecting the body’s own healing factors (platelets) into the injured tissue using image guidance with fluoroscopy and MSK ultrasound. This procedure can be used to treat a variety of orthopedic conditions, including joint instability, minor arthritis, ligament, and tendon injuries, and strains.

More than 30 randomized controlled trials have been carried out on the effectiveness of PRP to support the body’s ability to heal naturally by stimulating the stem cells within the targeted area.

Bone Marrow Concentrate Injections for Bulging Disc 

Stem cells are an essential component of the human body and play an important role in the repair of injured bones, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues. However, when we age or suffer an injury, the body may become unable to deliver enough stem cells to the area in need.

To help with this, bone marrow concentrate procedures at Orthagenex use imaging guidance to deliver concentrated bone marrow containing stem cells to the area in need. This encourages the body’s inherent ability to heal itself by replenishing cell population in the injured area.

In practice, bone marrow concentrate procedures are carried out by cannulating the bone near the pelvis with a trocar, a sharp-tipped device. This provides a narrow tunnel that can be used to collect samples of the bone marrow’s liquid component, which is rich in stem cells.

BMC procedures can assist patients in improving their spinal health and mobility without the lengthy and painful rehabilitation periods associated with surgery.



Bulging discs may begin as a negligible condition, but they can quickly progress to a severe degenerative disease that causes chronic pain, nerve damage, or reduced mobility. For patients facing these complications, surgery or medications may seem like the only, inevitable options. 

Fortunately, there’s a third, more efficient option that does not involve invasive interventions or pill-popping. At Orthagenex, we can help you discover a treatment program based on regenerative medicine that is entirely designed around your needs.

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Powder Springs, GA | New Lenox, IL

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