Bulging disc

A bulging disc occurs when the outer layer of the disc is weakened and the disc bulges or balloons.  Often they happen with no symptoms, however they can cause discomfort and problems if the disc compresses on a nerve root or the spinal cord.  A bulging disc may lead to disc herniation, whereby the inside (nucleus) of the disc leaks out.


Lumbar: Most commonly they occur in the L1-L5 region and may include:

  • Radiating leg pain to the buttocks, legs and feet which may be dull, sharp or burning.
  • Leg weakness, numbness, tingling and muscle spasms.
  • May worsen with coughing, sneezing or bending.
  • If pressing on sciatic nerve may lead to sciatica.
  • Rare but may lead to bladder or bowel incontinence. Go to Emergency room as soon as possible.

Cervical: C2-C7 region and may include:

  • Pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.
  • If pressing on spinal cord may lead to myelopathy

Thoracic: T1-T12 region, uncommon but may include

  • Pain in upper back that may radiate to the chest or stomach.


Bulging discs do not always require surgery.  Our neurosurgeons will discuss the best treatment option specifically for you.

Surgical options may include:

Content adapted from Medtronic Catalyst patient education http://catalyst.medtronic.com/catalyst/business-of-medicine/patient-education/

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