The spine is made up of vertebrae, and between these vertebrae are spinal discs – soft cushions meant to absorb energy in the spine and allow it to bend and rotate. These discs can become damaged, causing pain in the back and legs.
A disc bulge occurs when the disc is slightly bulging outward from the spine, but not to the point of herniation. A disc bulge does not come in contact with the ligaments that separate the disc from your spinal canal, which houses your nerves.
Disc bulges are very common, even in young, active people. These are usually noted as an incidental finding and are generally not a concern. People with no back pain symptoms can still have bulging disks. Significant disc bulging may cause leg pain if it begins to press on the nerves in the spinal canal. When you get an MRI of your spine, the radiologist will be able to tell if the bulge is becoming a problem or if it is normal.
Herniated discs are also referred to as ruptured discs and occur when a disc is torn open. Constant or sudden pressure on the disc can cause it to rupture, which can be very painful. If you have a herniated disc, your options range from physical therapy and pain medication to spinal surgery.