Degenerative Disc Disorder (Bulging and Herniated discs)

What is it?

The discs of the spine separate the vertebra (bones) and serve as shock absorbers. They cushion the vertebra and spinal nerves from the jarring effects of daily activity, like walking, running or jumping. Our discs start in the upper part of the neck and continue all the way down to the tailbone of the low back. The discs are part of the vertebra themselves, so we do not “slip a disc.” Instead the discs tend to degenerate and deform due to poor spinal mobility, poor posture, injury or age.

Think of the disc as a jelly donut. The middle of the disc (the jelly) is called the nucleus and the outer layer (donut) is called the annulus. The annulus has crossing fibers, much like a radial tire, that make it extremely strong to ensure the gel-like material is contained inside. The discs absorb shock and distribute the weight of our bodies to keep pressure off the spinal nerves. The discs themselves do not have a direct blood supply, so they depend on the proper movement of the vertebra to obtain their nutrients.


Maintaining a good blood supply is very important to any tissue within the body. Blood brings oxygen and nutrients, while removing waste materials to encourage growth and healing. Those tissues that have a rich blood supply like the spinal vertebra (bones) heal very quickly. If more stress is placed on the spine due to injury, age, obesity or poor posture this can limit the blood supply to the spinal discs and contribute to disc degeneration. The disc will begin to lose their height and create a bulge that putts more stress on the annular fibers. A disc bulge can eventually start to press on a spinal nerves or spinal cord causing pain, numbness or tingling. This can result in back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica and general numbness and tingling in the arms or legs. As this process continues, the reduced blood supply and the stress on the annular fibers can lead to a herniated disc. When the disc herniates (ruptures) the gel-like material begins to leak out and it can no longer act as a shock absorber for the spine and nerves. At this stage, the disc rapidly degenerate and cause arthritic changes like bone spurs and roughened joint surfaces. This usually results in a severe limitation in spinal range of motion and may eventually result in a full fusion of the vertebra.

How is Degenerative Disc Disorder (Bulging and Herniated discs) Diagnosed?

  • Detailed History
  • Physical Exam
  • Imaging Tests

A detailed history is a crucial first step in the diagnostic process.  It is important to learn about any past injuries or traumas, the nature of the problem as it presents for you, how long you have been suffering and any other complicating factors. 

In order to properly diagnose Degenerative Disc Disorder, a detailed exam by our medical provider or chiropractor is needed.  During the evaluation, they will look at your posture, range of motion, and muscular imbalances.  Supporting muscles of the spine will be evaluated for tightness, swelling, tenderness and trigger points.  Orthopedic, neurological and reflex testing will also be performed to evaluate the spinal joints, nerves and supportive muscles. 

Your medical provider or chiropractor may order imaging to further evaluate the alignment of the spine, spinal disc height and any signs of arthritis and degenerative changes.  

  • X-Ray – Used to visualize bone, an X-Ray may be ordered to rule out fractures, loss of joint spacing, misalignment of vertebra and joints, and evaluate the stage of arthritic changes present. 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – Using a large magnet and radio waves, an MRI can help to better evaluate the soft tissue of the spine, like muscles, nerves and spinal discs.
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) – A CT Scan is another way to evaluate soft tissue for those who can’t have an MRI.  Computers and a rotating x-ray machine are used to take cross-sectional (slices) images of the body. 

If identified early enough we can slow down and reverse the degenerative process using a combination of Chiropractic Manipulation Spinal Decompression and Rehab Exercises.


What Are My Treatment Options?​

  • Spinal Decompression

    Spinal Decompression is a non-invasive, non surgical option that helps patients who have degenerative discs. Pain is relieved by enlarging the space between the discs and areas that surround the nerve roots. The table pulls on your spine, gently separating the vertebra from each other. This creates a vacuum inside the discs. This vacuum allows for the bulges or herniations to be pulled back inside the disc and off of your nerves. The decompression table mimics natural motion that permits the disc fibers to heal by pulling in oxygen and nutrients, in addition to pushing out wastes. Decompression is a very effective treatment for the most severe cases of disc degeneration, disc bulging and disc herniation.

  • Chiropractic

    An adjustment is used to mobilize the joints in the spine to restore the proper motion of that joint, reduce pain, relieve nerve irritation and slow down the degenerative process. There are multiple techniques that a chiropractor can use to mobilize a joint, such as by hand or using instrument assisted techniques. Patients suffering from spinal degenerative disc disease, disc pain and pain in the low back have responded well to spinal manipulation

  • Physical Rehab

    Physical Rehab can be a significant part of the care solution and is often prescribed by our providers. The goal is to increase motion and restore function to allow a return to daily activities without pain. Specific stretching and strengthening exercises are performed to help relax tight muscles and strengthen week muscles. We teach our patients exercises in the office that they continue at home to resolve their problem. The focus is on identifying and correcting any functional limitations to create a long-term positive result. Rehab exercises help to ensure that the patient with disc degeneration will maintain the corrections made much longer than those that don’t do rehab.

  • Stem Cells

    Stem Cell injections are another option that may be recommended to help to restore the degenerative joints in the spine. Injections can be made to the joints of the vertebra to reduce inflammation, promote healing and decrease pain. Stem cells are unique in that they will stimulate the regrowth of tissue to restore the joint.

If you are experiencing symptoms of disc degeneration, please be evaluated to determine the best course of action. The medical team at Synergy Medical will work carefully with you to promote success in your treatment.

Call us today at (941) 755-9355 to Schedule a FREE, no-cost consultation.