Disc Bulge or a Slipped Disc!

back Pain

Disc Bulge. A Pain In The Back!

It is said that 9 out of 10 Australians will experience back pain at some point in their life. A slipped disc or disc bulge is often the first thought when people hear back pain. But what exactly is this “Disc Bulge” and is it responsible for your pain?

First a quick anatomy lesson.

What Is a Spinal Disc?

disc bulgeOur spinal discs are our inbuilt shock absorbers, little cushions, that are located between the bones of our spine. These disc’s are STRONG and ROBUST structures. But can occasionally deform, causing some of the material in the centre to “bulge” outwards. This is known as a disc bulge or protrusion. It is this type of scenario that is often blamed for low back pain.

When this does occur it can be scary and painful. Even more so if the pain lingers on for some time. Often our patients report that the injury occurred while bending over and rotating through the back. They experience:

  • Sharp pain at the back
  • Pain that may radiate down the leg
  • Aggravation of pain with too much sitting, standing, lifting coughing or sneezing.

Should I Get a Scan To See If I Have a Disc Bulge?

This is often the temptation of people and some practitioners. Unfortunately getting a scan may only serve to muddy the waters of what is actually going on in your back. The study below highlighted the results of COMPLETLY HEALTHY PEOPLE– that is individuals who DID NOT HAVE BACK PAIN. As you can see 50-75% of people in their 40’s had either a disc bulge or disc degeneration on their scan – WITH NO PAIN. So you can see why scans can sometimes confuse the issue.

disc bulge


We need to think about these disc bulges as a normal part of the ageing process. You wouldn’t expect to look at a picture of yourself when you were 18, to look EXACTLY the same as when you are 40? There are a few more wrinkles, a few more lines – these are normal. The same can be said for our discs.

Discs have also been the source of a number of myths and misconceptions. “I’ve slipped a disc” or my “disc is out of place” this leads us to believe these structures are fragile and weak. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These structures do not slip. But rather do a great job of supporting us and facilitating movement.

Can My Disc Bulge Heal?

YES! Shall I say it again. YES. So we can move on from ” I can’t possibly do X Y Zt, because I have a bad back” Disc bulges are not forever. There are 100o’s and 1000’s of well-documented evidence of scans showing COMPLETE RESOLUTION. With the correct intervention, a disc bulge does not have to be a life sentence.

What Can I Do To Help My Disc Bulge?

The First step is getting a correct diagnosis.  Early intervention and management is essential to ensure your long term health and well being. So establishing if, in fact, you do have a disc bulge is critical. The treatment path may be vastly different from a joint injury. So seek clarity first.

The Second step is to KEEP MOVING. This is VITAL! Gone are the days of complete rest for 3-5 days. Find a position and movement pattern that suits you and your back. A position that relieves or reduces your pain levels. For some it may be walking, others it may be arching backward. Find your “position of ease” and keep doing it. Keep in mind – less is more. Don’t overdo it. And find an intensity your body can cope with.

The Third Step is to build strength. Through the years of research, we know that a strong body is a healthy body. The same can be said for our spine. By creating strength in the muscles that support the spine, we can protect ourselves as much as possible against long term back pain. As Osteopaths we treat YOU and YOUR back. We tailoring each and every treatment to your individual needs. Our hands-on sessions may use a combination of:

  • Soft tissue massage – to ease muscular spasm
  • Taping to help support the muscles
  • Mobilisation – improving your spinal joint range of motion
  • Dry needling – Pain relief of trigger points
  •  Strength Exercise – The KEY to long term health and well being.

Key Take Home Message:

  • Ignore the myths surrounding Disc Bulge’s – they don’t slip, They are strong structures.
  • Seek clarity and a correct diagnosis – The earlier the better.
  • Scans are not always essential. And can sometimes create confusion and uncertainty.
  • Keep Moving.
  • Strengthening is the KEY to long term health and wellbeing.

If you are local to Glen Iris, Malvern, Toorak, Ashburton, Caulfield and Hawthorn and you think you may have a disc bulge or injury, reach out, We are here to help. If you have any questions about your back pain and spinal discs or want some specific advice we are more than happy to chat with you. You can email us at [email protected]

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Your comprehensive guide that covers everything from the basics of back pain to tips for keeping your spine healthy.