Bulging Disc vs. Herniated Disc

Bulging Disc vs. Herniated Disc – What’s the Difference?

There is a high likelihood that you are well-acquainted with the terms ‘Herniated disc’ and ‘bulging disc’ whether it be due to suffering from the condition yourself, or because of someone else in your family who might have had it.

Even though both conditions are related to your spine and are equally as painful as the other, contrary to what you might see on the internet, being diagnosed with a herniated disk is not the same as being diagnosed with a bulged disc.

Well how are they different? Continue reading our article on bulging disc vs herniated disc to find out.


Before we get started, it would be helpful to know what these two are, and how these conditions arise. The vertebrae in our spine have discs made of cartilage between them.

Bulging Disc vs. Herniated Disc

While the vertebrae prevent external force from coming in direct contact with the spinal cord (the bundle of nerves that runs down the middle of the backbone), the discs prevent one vertebra from rubbing against the other and hence minimizes the friction that is produced.

Bulging Disc vs. Herniated Disc

This in turn prevents your spine from wearing out too early on in life.

Bulging Disc

As you grow older, the discs will start to wear out and become dehydrated which therefore causes the cartilage to harden. The hardening of the cartilage causes the disc to bulge out from its sides and droop downwards (hence the name of the illness).

The disc is typically composed of two types of cartilage: tough cartilage that makes up the outer layer of a disc, and softer cartilage that is found in the center. When you are diagnosed with a bulging disc, it means that the tough cartilage is bulging out while the inner, soft cartilage remains uninvolved.

Bulging Disc

When suffering from bulging discs, you will be able to spot a number of symptoms that are associated with it. For example, pain in the legs, back and/or buttocks are most commonly linked to bulging discs.

Risk Factors Associated with Bulging Disks

1. Incorrect Posture

Having an incorrect posture, whether it be while you are sleeping, running, walking, or even sitting, puts a lot of pressure on your spine and hence increases the chances of you developing bulging discs in the near future.

2. Weight

All bodies have a specified weight under which they function properly. Exceeding this limit may result in illnesses like bulging discs since your spine undergoes a lot of stress to support the extra weight.

Bulging Disc

3. Lifting or Other Strenuous Jobs

When lifting heavy objects, it is essential that you remember to make your legs do most of the work instead of putting all the pressure on your back since prolonged repetition of such a habit will wear out your discs.

4. Smoking

Smoking reduces the transport of oxygen to the blood around the discs between your vertebrae and thus causes them to break down quickly.

Herniated Disc

On the other hand, a herniated disc is a result of a crack forming in the tough cartilage disc between the vertebrae so much so that some of the soft cartilage also oozes out. Herniated discs are also often referred to as slipped or ruptured discs even though in this condition, not all of the disc is affected.

You can even get a herniated disc after suffering from an injury to the back or from stretching in the wrong way.

Needless to say, people with no past records of accidents have also been said to suffer from herniated discs.

Herniated Disc

Moreover, patients with this condition are more prone to suffering from the pain than patients who were diagnosed with bulging discs since in herniated discs, a nerve or nerve ending is usually flattened or swollen and that results in irritation.

Symptoms of herniated discs typically include weakness, pain in the arms or legs and numbness or a tingling sensation in the affected area. If you are familiar with any one or two of the stated signs, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Moreover, we would suggest you undergo a monthly check-up even if your body does not show any symptoms since a lot of the times herniated discs tend to not show any symptoms until they get too serious.

Risk Factors of Herniated Discs

Generally there are a lot of factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing herniated discs, such as:

1. Genetics

This factor, unlike the other ones cannot be prevented. If anyone in your family is suffering from herniated discs, there is a chance that you will too.

2. Body-weight

People who weigh over the limit are more prone to developing herniated discs since the extra mass causes excess stress on the cartilage discs and thus resulting in them wearing out faster.

Risk Factors of Herniated Discs

3. Job

Work related to frequent lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, etc., bring up the probability of a person developing herniated discs.

4. Smoking

Since smoking minimizes the oxygen supply to various parts of your body- your back being one of them- the discs will suffer from a lack of this essential element and hence degenerate faster.

Best Mattress for Herniated Disc

Sleep does not come easily to a person who is suffering from herniated discs due to the ever-growing pain in the affected area. However, this problem may be solved by purchasing the right type of mattress.

Mattresses that are generally made of latex or memory foam are the best mattress for herniated disc since they promote proper alignment of the spinal cord and also helps to let go of the pressure that may have built up there.

Mattress for Herniated Disc

The lower the pressure that is imposed on your spinal cord, the more the pain will subside and hence you will be able to catch a good night’s sleep.


We hope we were able to help you understand the difference between a herniated and a bulging disc with our article on bulging disc vs herniated disc.

We would advise you to read this article only for reference and pay a visit to your doctor as soon as you can if you feel like you may have either of the conditions we just mentioned.

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