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Bulging Disc Treatment Overview

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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • Mild to moderate symptoms—like back pain, some leg pain, and numbness and tingling in your leg—can often be treated at home.
  • Try changing your activities, resting, and taking ibuprofen (Advil) for 1–2 weeks.
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When you may need a provider

  • Severe back pain that does not start to get better after a few days of bed rest and NSAIDs.
  • Symptoms don't improve after 6–8 weeks.
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Emergency Care

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Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Difficulty walking
  • Numbness around your inner thighs

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All treatments for bulging disc
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When to see a healthcare provider

You should contact a healthcare provider if your bulging disk symptoms don’t improve after 6–8 weeks of home treatments like rest, ice, heat, and regular use of OTC anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs). Bulging disks usually get better with time, but your doctor will check for any other issues that may be causing your pain. They may recommend testing or taking oral steroids for pain and inflammation.

Your doctor may recommend seeing a physical therapist. Some people feel better after seeing an acupuncturist or a chiropractor.

Other concerning symptoms include weakness in the leg or foot, severe pain that does not improve after 24–48 hours, worsening numbness, or difficulty walking.

See a doctor right away if you have severe pain that does not improve after 24–48 hours, or you develop muscle weakness in your leg, a foot drop (difficulty lifting the front of your foot), or buckling (giving out) of the leg.

Getting diagnosed

A bulging disk diagnosis is usually made by a primary care doctor or orthopedist based on your symptoms and a physical exam. You may need X-rays of your spine to look for arthritis or other conditions that are often found along with disc bulges.

If your symptoms are not improving or you have numbness or weakness in the leg, you may need an MRI, which can show the location and size of a bulging disc and how much pressure it might be putting on the nerves or spinal cord.

What to expect from your visit

If you have a bulging disk, your doctor will recommend taking NSAIDs and using heat and ice. They may recommend seeing a physical therapist to show you gentle stretching and strengthening exercises to support the back. They can also help relax your back muscles with ice, heat, massage, and electric stimulation.

If you have severe pain, you may be prescribed oral steroid pills to quickly reduce inflammation.

Prescription bulging disc medications

  • Ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Naprosyn)
  • Meloxicam (Mobic)
  • Nabumetone (Relafen)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Prednisone
  • Methylprednisolone (Medrol Dose Pak)
  • Dexamethasone (Decadron)

Types of providers

  • A primary care provider can treat mild to moderate symptoms.
  • A neurologist or orthopedic spine specialist may be needed if your bulging disc is not getting better or you have more severe symptoms like weakness or numbness.
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