Chernoff MD - Orthopedic & Spinal Surgery

Herniated vs. Bulging Disc

If you or someone you know is in need of a spinal surgeon on Long Island, our team at New York Orthopedic Spinal Associates is here to help you!

While both Herniated and Bulging discs are very common back injuries, many people fail to recognize how they differ. The team at New York Orthopaedic Spinal Associates would like to share with you information about these conditions so that you can be more informed in the case that you fall victim to one of them. If you believe that one of these injuries has taken over your life, be sure to contact us today to get the care you deserve!

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc occurs when the discs in between the vertebrae of the spine slip out of place. These discs act as shock absorbers, so when the disc is herniated, it usually prohibits the back from bending properly or at all. While herniated discs can occur in any part of the back, they are most common in the lower back. 


Herniated discs often press on nerves, resulting in a tingling or numb feeling in the limbs. The most commonly affected areas are the arms, legs, and neck. If pain is present in the lower back, it will usually spread to the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Nerve damage is common if the condition is left untreated. This can cause weakness to your muscles, potentially causing a loss of the ability to hold and lift certain objects. Although it is not as common, you may have a herniated disc and not experience any symptoms. In these cases, it will only show up through an X-Ray or image screening. 


The most common cause is a strain or injury, usually due to physical activity. Lifting heavy objects causes strain on the back, which can cause the discs to slip out of place. Overweight individuals are more at risk because the spine has to support excess weight. Age also plays a factor, as the older you get, the more vulnerable your body is to a herniated or slipped disc. As the body ages, the protective cushion around the discs starts to wear. This is more common in men than in women. 

What is a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc is the swelling of the discs in your vertebrae. This happens when the discs experience moving or shifting out of place in the vertebrae. 


A bulging disc is a low severity injury as many patients don’t experience any pain at all. If the pain does occur it is usually a mild tingling or burning sensation in the glutes, feet or calves. Intense pain usually does not occur until the bulging discs become a herniation.


Bulging discs usually occur as you get older and the protecting layer of the vertebrae starts to deteriorate. Weakened back muscles can also be a common factor. Bad posture, improper sleeping positions, and improper exercise techniques are additional risk factors. People who live sedentary lifestyles and smokers are also at an increased risk for bulging discs. 

What Is The Difference?

Although the injuries have similar symptoms and causes, there is a major difference. In bulging discs, the outer layer of the disc is not torn or ruptured. Instead, there is just swelling and a bubble that protrudes into the spine and vertebrae. Additionally, herniated discs are usually caused by bulging discs. The excess pressure on the bulging disc causes the disc to rupture or tear, resulting in herniation.

The severity of the injury is a major difference. Bulging discs are less serious and cause less pain. Herniated discs are more severe since the discs are ruptured or torn, causing more severe pain. When the disc herniates and ruptures, the liquid pouring out of the disc causes the pain. 

How can our Spinal Surgeon on Long Island help?

If the pain is mild, over the counter pain medications can help reduce the pain. If the pain continues then a cortisone shot or epidural injections can be administered to help reduce nerve damage. If you are still experiencing pain after these measures are taken, surgery may be required. Procedures offered by our spinal surgeon on Long Island that can help treat these conditions include:

  • Laminotomy: a portion of the disc is removed. 
  • Discectomy: The entire disc is removed.
  • Arthroplasty: replacement with an artificial disc.
  • Spinal Fusion: discs fused with other bone or metal rods. 

Contact our Spinal Surgeon on Long Island

Our five convenient locations allow patients from all over Long Island to receive the best spinal care. If you believe that you are suffering from a bulging or herniated disc, our spinal surgeon on Long Island at New York Orthopaedic Spinal Associates is ready to help! Contact us to get the care you deserve today!

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