Disc Herniation Vs. Disc Bulge

A Human disc can be described as  a jelly donut. The soft jelly like center part of the disc  is called the nucleus pulposus.  The outer, strong fiberous part of the disc called the annulus. 

The annulus is like the bread the holds the jelly in place in a donut.  Like a jelly donut,  if pressed, the “Jelly”,  or nucleus will come out of the hole  in the bread,  or a break in the annulus.  The jelly can irritate the nerves and tissues in the spine.

This is very different from a disc bulge.

The disc bulge process is more like the car tire.  Over time,  the air in the car tire slowly leaks out.  When that happens,  the side walls of the car tire bulges out because of the decreased pressure.  In a disc bulge,  the central portion of the disc,  the nucleus dries out over time.  The pressure from the disc material decreases,  and the side walls of the disc bulges out.  This is a gradual process.

Disc herniations are very different from disc bulges.  Please do not interchange those terms. 

Hi, I am Dr. John Shim, and I want to explain an important difference between a disc herniation and a Disc Bulge. A Human disc can be described as a jelly donut. The soft jelly-like center part of the disc is called the nucleus pulposus. The outer, strong fiberous part of the disc is called the annulus. The annulus is like the bread that holds the jelly in place in a donut. Like a jelly donut, if pressed, the “Jelly”, or the nucleus, will come out of the hole in the bread, or a break of the annulus. The jelly can irritate the nerves and tissues in the spine. This is very different from a disc bulge. The disc bulge process is more like that of a car tire. Over time, the air in the car tire slowly leaks out. When this happens, the side walls of the car tire bulges out because of the decreased pressure. In a disc bulge, the center portion of the disc, the nucleus, dries out over time. The pressure from the disc material decreases, and the side walls of the disc bulge out. This is a gradual process. Disc herniations are very different from disc bulges. Please do not interchange those terms. I'm Dr. John Shim, discussing the difference between a disc herniation and a disc bulge. Thank you for listening. If you would like more information about similar topics, please subscribe to our newsletter or to our YouTube channel. Thank you.

Last modified: September 26, 2019

31 thoughts on “Disc Herniation Vs. Disc Bulge

  1. Hellooo
    I’m 80% better after 6 months of tolerated not life stopping pain… after that i had cramps at the other healthy side, the physiotherapist used vibrator on my back, i got bad pain at the disc related side again… no change in new mri
    Will the pain keep off and on??

    1. Unfortunately once you injure a disc, there is often exacerbations of back pain. Your best bet is to do whatever got you to 80% better and do it again. Any type of heavy lifting or pounding on the spine can cause reinjury. Wishing you well.

  2. Hi Doc,

    My husband has been experiencing severe pain a couple of weeks ago. We went to see a doctor and advised that he’s suffering from sciatica. His taking meds until now and showing a bit of development. What is the common cause of sciatica? Is it herniated disc or bulged disc? Thanks in advance for the answer 😊

  3. I congratulate you for the best answer I read in a long time on the internet. There is never too much to remember. Before applying a miracle cure visit a specialist
    says:
    October 9, 2019 at 1:46 pm
    We are unable to advise or treat patients we have not seen in person.

  4. The best explanation yet! I’ve been having lower back pain. I had MRI & found out I have bulging disc.I’ve been doing physical therapy.

    1. We are unable to treat or advise patients we have not personally seen. Please rule out any hip problem before treating the back. All the best.

  5. Sir
    I have mild defuse disc bulge c5-6 &
    C6-7 some times I am having numbness in left arm and some times pain in neck .. is it cureable by medicine or not

  6. This is best explanation I have ever seen. Most of the doctors I know could not tell the difference. Many thanks

  7. Dear doctor , what is the best solution for the disc herniated ? My pain was started 10 years ago. Now i know it is disc herniation when i so the MRI . I decided to do surgery. But doctors are said no need surgery..

    1. You want to avoid surgery as long as possible unless there is a neurological emergency. Try physical therapy and strengthening your core. Just because there is a disc herniation, it does not mean you need surgery.

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