Intervertebral discs are the shock-absorbing structures between each vertebra. The discs have a thick outer layer surrounding a soft, gel-like center. A bulging disc is a condition in which the inner portion of the intervertebral disc begins to protrude from the outer wall of the disc. That protrusion or bulge can put pressure on the surrounding nerve roots, leading to pain that radiates down the back and/or other areas of the body depending on its location within the spinal column. A bulging disc may be a precursor to a herniated disc, or one which has partially or completely broken through the outer wall of the intervertebral disc.
When a disc herniates, the contents may compress the spinal cord or the spinal nerve roots. In some instances, fragments from the outer disc wall (annulus) break from the parent disc and drift into the spinal canal. A bulging disc that protrudes into the spaces of the spinal canal is known as spinal stenosis. Bulging discs may also cause sciatica, or symptoms of leg pain and possibly tingling, numbness and weakness that originates in the lower back and travels through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg.
A contained disc — such as a bulging disc — has not broken through the outer wall of the intervertebral disc, which means the nucleus pulposus remains contained within the annulus fibrosus.
A non-contained disc — such as a ruptured or herniated disc — has either partially or completely broken through the outer wall of the intervertebral disc.
A bulging disc may be a precursor to a herniation. The disc may protrude into the spinal canal without bereaking through the disc wall. The gel-like interior (nucleus pulposus) does not leak out. The disc remains intact except a small bubble appears on the outside of the disc.
When a disc herniates, the contents may compress the spinal cord or the spinal nerve roots. To complicate matters, sometimes fragments from the annulus (the outer disc wall) may break away from the parent disc and drift into the spinal canal.
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