Back pain ranges from uncomfortable to agonizing, from a slight inconvenience to a disastrous disability. Whether you’re a young athlete hoping to compete at the top of your game or a grandparent who just wants to hold that new baby in comfort, it’s critical to address back pain as quickly as possible.

One of the most common causes of back pain is a bulging disc. This prevalent and potentially excruciating medical condition can result in limited mobility, pain and numbness, weakness, tingling and an overall reduction in comfort and independence.

Luckily, the medical community has several techniques for treating bulging discs today. But, not all of those techniques are created equal.

Without knowing how they stack up, it’s difficult to determine the best bulging disc treatment for you, which can result in costly and ineffective procedures – not to mention frustration at continued pain and hampered mobility.


What Is a Bulging Disc?

Many people confuse a bulging disc with a herniated disc. While the two conditions center on the same bodily structures and are quite similar in effect, they are not the same: “A bulging disc is a condition in which the nucleus (inner portion) of a spinal disc remains contained within the annulus fibrosus (outer portion), unlike a herniated disc in which the nucleus leaks out of the disc.”

The bulge is typically caused because of a thinning of the outer part of the disc. Over time, the constant pressure of use creates an increasingly larger bulge. The bulge takes up more space in the spinal column and compresses on the nerves. This is what leads to numbness, tingling, weakness, constrained movement and pain. Such symptoms can compromise everyday activities, such as walking, driving, lifting, and even sitting or sleeping.


What Are Your Treatment Options?

Doctors offer a range of approaches to bulging discs. While they differ in approach and results, the goal of any treatment is twofold:

  • To remove pressure from surrounding structures, thereby reducing pain and other symptoms
  • To heal the bulge itself, returning the disc to a normal state


In order to accomplish this, doctors typically recommend three treatments: cortisone shots, surgery and spinal decompression.

Cortisone Shots 

Cortisone shots, otherwise known as epidural steroid injections, involve inserting a needle into the spine and delivering any of a variety of anti-inflammatory and numbing agents, “both a corticosteroid (e.g., triamcinolone, methyl-prednisolone, dexamethasone) and an anesthetic numbing agent (e.g., lidocaine or bupivacaine).”

Steroid injections typically last for a few months, and in some cases can cause high blood pressure, permanent dimpling of the skin, permanently pale skin around the injection site and severe infection. Each shot costs about $100, but you may have to repeat them frequently, and can only go so many rounds before you begin to compromise cartilage.


Surgery is an extreme course of action, involving cutting into the body and removing a portion of the bulging disc, and you should only undertake it if every other approach has failed.

It can cost thousands or tens of thousands out of pocket, and requires 3 months of recovery time. The means considerable lost time at work and potentially greater cash outflow if you have to counteract unintended injury to the site or infection, both serious risks.

Plus, as with any treatment, there is no guarantee of effectiveness.

Spinal Decompression 

Spinal decompression is a procedure in which physicians use a machine to pull apart the vertebrae and discs, creating space that didn’t exist before.

It’s important to note that spinal decompression and traction or inversion therapy are not the same thing. In the latter, chiropractors or physicians use inversion tables or unidirectional traction machines to relieve the pressure on the spine that accrues when sitting or standing. This returns the spine to a more “normal” state.

Spinal decompression machines use multiple lines of pull force and rotation, offering much better targeting. Each treatment usually costs about $100.

You can learn more in our article, Should You Choose Spinal Decompression Therapy Over Back Surgery?


Which Treatment Is Best?

Overall, there is a clear answer to which treatment is best. Given the risks, cost and recovery time, surgery is a poor choice. Cortisone shots, with their potential side effects and the fact that the intended effects wear off rather quickly, may prove a good stopgap measure for excruciating pain, but is far from an ideal answer.

Spinal decompression is almost certainly the best response. The course is of limited duration, meaning you will usually recover normal spine function within 10-15 treatments. It doesn’t require any invasive procedures whatsoever, and you will start feeling relief from the first treatment. Overall, it is the most holistic, natural and long-lasting option.

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