Worried about a bulging or herniated disc?

By Jacqueline Dagostino, PT, DPT, OCS, Cert. VRS

The intervertebral disc is a strong fibrocartilaginous disc separating each bone in our spine. It provides cushioning, shock absorption, and support to the spinal column, and plays a large role in our ability to move our spine in multiple directions (bending, twisting). Bulging and herniated discs are common diagnoses in the lumbar spine (low back). This occurs when part of the inner portion of the disc presses outward on the outer portion. The extent of bulging and symptoms vary greatly between individuals. Though sometimes these can be problematic, many disc bulges and herniations do not cause any symptoms at all.

Disc bulges occur in 30% of all individuals without any back pain. This occurrence increases by approximately 10% every decade of life2. Most individuals 50 years and older have asymptomatic disc bulges. This means, disc bugling occurs in the lumbar spine frequently without causing any symptoms or pain.

Sometimes bulging or herniated discs irritate nearby nerve tissue. This can cause pain and limit your mobility. Symptomatic disc bulges and herniations typically respond well to conservative treatment and physical therapy, and most resolve on their own! Studies show 40-96% of herniated discs and 13% bulging discs will have spontaneous regression1. The larger or more severe disc herniation, the better chance of improvement. Ask your physical therapist for more info!


  1. DOI:10.1177/0269215514540919
  2. Brinjikji W., et al. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2015 April; 36 (4):811-816