What does it mean if my MRI scan shows a "disc bulge"?
"My MRI scan shows I have a disc bulge so I have stopped picking up my grandchildren".
Waiting for the results of your spinal MRI scan can be quite nerve wracking. Once you get the results there is sigh of relief when you are told there is nothing life threatening.
Then the doctor tells you "you have a disc bulge". Before you have chance to ask him in detail what that means he is already calling his next patient through and you are left wondering:
What on earth does this mean? Should I stop lifting or bending? Is it going to get worse? Does that mean I have a slipped disc? When my back hurts does that mean it is getting worse?
The internet doesn't help either. Most websites are trying to sell you something and will use scare tactics to get you to buy from them. This can lead to changes in your behaviour and how you feel about your health.
This blog post will shed some light on this topic!
MRI scanners were invented by Paul C. Lauterbur in September 1971. They are used to diagnose tissue specific pathology in the body.
In the world of back pain and neck pain it is used to rule out sinister pathology such as cancer and to examine the state of the nervous tissue in the spine.
Beyond this, the vast amount of information we get from the image can be confusing and in some cases totally irrelevant.
A study by Waleed Brinjiki et. al (2015) studied a population of people without back pain. They found that 80% of 50 year olds had disc degeneration and 60% had disc bulging.
So, the disc bulge you have been told about may not be so relevant after all if people without back pain have them as well. Scientists are viewing these kinds of findings as normal, like hair going grey with age or skin wrinkling.
The body is much more complex than being able to take a picture of you lying flat on your back of n MRI machine and being able to decide what is wrong.
Sleep, diet, stress, physical activity, bodyweight and lifestyle choices all have a big impact on back pain and we don't see any of these on the MRI scan report.
"Treat the man not the scan".
You will hear this a lot in my practice.
How can some of my patients have disc bulges, nerve compression or even extensive degeneration in the spine but feel no pain after a course of physiotherapy? Has the disc bulge gone away? Has the nerve become decompressed? In some cases disc bulges can reduce in size but largely the answer is no.
The body is very resilient and given the right treatment the body can become more flexible, stronger and more balanced. Equally, simple changes to your lifestyle can make a huge difference.
Don't stop lifting your grandchildren yet. Seeing a physiotherapist can shine the light on what is causing your back pain and find you the solution you need to move forward and realise your bodies potential.
Getting access to a specialist back pain physiotherapist will give you the best chance of getting better, disc bulge or no disc bulge.
If you’ve got back pain that’s just flared up, come out of nowhere or you have been suffering with it for a while then I can help.
By clicking on the link below you can join the growing number of people who have benefitted from receiving my free back pain report which goes into detail the best ways to end back pain naturally.
Alternatively you can book a free phone or face to face discovery session which gives you the opportunity to learn about your injury and what solutions are available.
This is not medical advice and all MRI findings should be discussed with a physician or radiologist.