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  • Writer's pictureDr. Keith McGahey

Bulging Disc? It May NOT Be The Cause Of Your Back Pain

In my 25+ years as a Chiropractor in Bellevue I've seen my share of back pain. The causes can vary from lifting injuries, car accidents, sports injuries and pinched nerves, to something as simple as poor posture. But one type that always interests me is the individual who has been diagnosed as having lower back pain from a bulging disc.

It’s not uncommon for these types of cases to come to me as a last resort, after trying a number of different treatment methods without relief. Now, a bulging disc may very well be the cause of your lower back pain, but some credible studies have shown that this isn’t always the case. And based on my experience, I would tend to agree.

The Bulging Disc Treatment Cycle

Man with low back pain from bulging disc

The scenario is more common than you would think: you develop lower back pain after a car crash, or playing sports, or sitting at a desk, or maybe you just wake with it. You pay a visit to your doctor, and they order a MRI or other imaging. And guess what? You have a bulging disc in your lower back.

At this point you may be prescribed pain killers or anti-inflammatory medication. If that doesn’t work, the next plan of attack may be a prescription for physical therapy or massage. If those treatment interventions don’t work, you may be prescribed injections to the area around the disc. Maybe that doesn’t work either. Now what? Surgery?

Not All Bulging Discs Cause Back Pain

The risk here is that your bulging disc may not be the cause of your pain at all. Please hear me out… In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most respected medical journals on the planet, researchers performed lower back MRI studies on 98 people with NO lower back pain. The study was conducted to see just how common disc bulges were in people who have never had lower back pain before. The findings might surprise you:

Diagram of joints with bulging disc and arthritis
  • 52% of people had at least one disc bulge in their lower backs, even though they didn’t have lower back pain.

  • 27% had a disc protrusion in their lower back (a more serious disc bulge), even without back pain.

What this study is saying is that a bulging disc doesn’t necessarily cause pain. Sometimes a disc bulge is just part of the normal aging process. It also means that for some people, treating a bulging disc may not give them any relief at all.

If Your Low Back Pain Isn't Getting Better, Don't Give Up!

If you've been suffering from back pain that just isn't getting better, it may be time to try something different. If you don’t get any relief after a realistic period of time, it may be something else is to blame. Even if you have a bulging disc, the cause of your back pain may be completely unrelated. You may have a pinched nerve, misaligned spinal joints, or even a muscle strain.

Listen to your gut and make sure you ask questions. And if you decide you'd like a second opinion, consider scheduling an appointment or free consultation. If I don't think I can help you, I will do my best to find you someone who can.

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