A bulging disc in the neck or back should not be confused with a herniated disc. Although the herniated disc may mimic some of the symptoms of a bulging disc, a vertebral disc is considered herniated only once the inner material of the disc actually breaks though its outer shell.
A bulging disc is usually a clear sign that there are problems in the surrounding areas of the spine. The problems may be caused by increased pressure being placed on the spinal disc, or by the disc weakening from degeneration. A bulging disc in the back or neck can be one of the underlying causes of spinal stenosis, sciatica, or a pinched nerve.
Note From Dr. Liu:
A bulging disc in the neck will rarely require surgery. Conservative treatment and activity modification is all that is usually required. To get a treatment recommendation, use our Treatment Checker .
The diagrams below show two different stages of a bulging disc; healthy disc and a disc bulge. Most people will not notice the degenerative stage before the disc bulges as there is no actual pressure being placed on the surrounding nerves/structure.