Bulging, Herniated, Protruding, Degenerative, Bulging, Slipped, Ruptured, Sequestered... Are These ALL the Same Thing?
The answer to the headlined question is NO. Nevertheless, all of these above terms are frequently (and quite incorrectly) used interchangeably, by both doctors and the lay public. Each of these terms refers to a classification of damage to the intervertebral discs of the spine. These are the shock-absorbing cushions between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). Regardless of how disc problems are classified, they don’t necessarily cause pain or other symptoms. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. If a disc is NOT putting pressure on a spinal nerve enough to interfere with the nerve’s function, it won’t give you trouble. In other words, bad discs don’t always hurt.
A Quick Anatomy Lesson:
A spinal disc has two main parts. The annulus is the tough outer layer of the disc. The nucleus is a soft jelly-like inner core of the disc. Just picture a jelly doughnut. Think of the annulus as the doughnut part and the nucleus as the jelly part and I’m sure you’ll understand. In the image below you can see the spinal nerve roots (blue/purple). Notice how close they are to the disc (light blue). If there's a problem with the disc, it can affect the spinal nerve.
Let’s take a look at the different disc problems.
Dr. Donald Liebell, DC, BCAO
477 Viking Drive #170
Virginia Beach, VA 23452
Imagine a kitchen sponge. It’s plump and full of water. Squeeze the water out of the sponge and let it dry out. That’s sort of like a degenerative disc. Degenerative disc disease is the term for an arthritic disc or arthritis of the neck. Not only is the disc itself dried out and thinner, but there are also bone spurs in the area. Unfortunately, a great deal of neck pain is incorrectly blamed on degenerative discs. In my 30+ years of experience,
I have consistently been able to help people with chronic pain, who were told be another doctor that their pain was caused by degenerative discs. What matters is the NERVES. A disc can look bony and cruddy, but cause no pain whatsoever!
Bulging or Protruding Disc:
A bulging disc looks different from a herniated disc. Imagine pressing down on a jelly doughnut. It flattens and widens outward or pancakes, but doesn’t squeeze out the jelly. The doughnut part (the annulus) does not tear, which would allow the jelly to ooze out into the spinal canal. A bulging disc is the same as a protruding disc. With a bulging or protruding disc, the surrounding ligaments remain intact. Another way of understanding a bulging disc is to imagine pressing down on a balloon, but NOT hard enough to make it pop.
Imagine the same jelly doughnut. In the case of the herniated disc, the doughnut part has torn enough to let the jelly ooze out of the doughnut. Or imagine pressing down on the balloon, but this time enough to make it pop. Basically a herniated disc is worse than a bulging disc.
The term, ruptured disc is appropriately used to describe a herniated disc. Other terms for herniated disc are extruded or prolapsed discs. If an MRI report reveals a disc extrusion, you’ve got a true-blue, full-blown herniated disc. What could be worse than a herniated disc? There’s one more type:
A sequestered disc is a herniated or ruptured disc that has a portion of the disc jelly broken off and separated from the rest of the disc. Bulging discs, herniated discs and protruding discs are essentially forms of slipped discs. Slipped Disc is not exactly a specific medical term. But it’s good enough for most folks. I cannot stress enough that bulging and herniated discs most certainly do NOT always cause pain and dysfunction. Spinal nerve root or cord compression must be severe enough to cause nerve interference. We simply cannot assume that the mere presence of a herniated disc, a bulging disc, a degenerative disc, or even a sequestered disc is the cause for a person’s pain. It could even by one of several reasons for the pain. This is one of the reasons why doctors such as me have been able to end neck and back pain, and many related conditions without neck or back surgery.
Certainly, some people need disc surgery. Others already have had it, but it didnt' help. If you have a disc problem; help may be possible. don't give up! The Liebell Clinic offers several different approaches that have been helpful to countless people with disc problems.
Dr. Donald Liebell, DC, BCAO
477 Viking Drive #170
Virginia Beach, ViA 23452
477 Viking Drive #170, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23452, United States
The Liebell Clinic has office hours one Saturday each month for special evaluations. Times and dates are variable month-to-month.
Copyright © 2021 The Liebell Clinic - All Rights Reserved. Donald Liebell, DC, BCAO. The information and statements contained in this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The content of this website is for informational purposes only; it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Your reliance on any information provided by Dr. Liebell’s website, any referenced parties is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice or treatment, because of information contained in this website. This website expresses Dr. Liebell's health care views, and describes wellness-based, natural treatment methods, and must not be misconstrued as direct treatment advice—it is information only.