Difference Between Bulging Disc and Herniated Disc

The spine is a vital part of the human body. Just like the other organs, it has a specific function of its own. It is made up of bones called vertebrae. Also, rubbery discs are stacked upon one another in the spine, which forms the spinal cord. The spinal cord runs down the spinal canal. The rubbery discs are divided into two types. One is the Bulging disc, other is the Herniated disc.

Bulging Disc vs Herniated Disc

The main difference between Bulging Disc and Herniated Disc is that a bulging disc not always affects the entire circumference of the spine; the outer layer of cartilage is mainly involved, whereas a herniated disc involves the outer as well as the inner cartilage. The latter is said to cause more pain as it has the chance of getting into the nerve roots.

Bulging Disc and Herniated Disc

A bulging disc, as the name suggests, appears like something bulging out. It is generally caused due to ageing issues. The symptoms of a bulging disc include pain in the legs or back. This can also lead to other disc degeneration problems if not treated early. However, this is comparatively less painful and does not affect the entire circumference.

On the other hand, a herniated disc is otherwise known as a ruptured or slipped disc. It is because it results in a crack, which can travel into the nerve roots as well. It is quite painful as it can go farther and result in cracks. Basically, a little part of soft inner cartilage shows through the crack, which gets caused in the tough outer layer.

Comparison Table Between Bulging Disc and Herniated Disc

Parameters of ComparisonBulging DiscHerniated Disc
Meaning When the disc bulges out of the spinal column, it is called a bulging disc. When the disc gets ruptured or slipped, it is called a herniated disc.
Area of EffectIt affects only the outer layer of the cartilage. It affects the outer as well as the inner layer of cartilage.
CauseIt is caused by wear and tear due to ageing. It is caused by cracks formed due to any injury or ageing.
PainIt is less painful in comparison. It is more painful as it can get into nerve roots.
Treatment Long term and short term treatments are available. Treatment should be done at an earlier stage.

What is Bulging Disc?

The spinal canal of the human body is stacked up with vertebrae and rubbery discs. The condition when these discs are compressed results in a Bulging Disc. It is a degeneration related to ageing which continues to show symptoms gradually.

A bulging disc refers to a condition where a part of the disc in the spine bulges out. This situation occurs due to heavy compression of the disc between the bones because of ageing. As these bones act as the modes of shock absorption, the damage in them affects the spinal cord too. A bulging disc generally occurs at the bottom part of the lumbar spine.

When the gel present in the outer layer of a disc starts to decrease and compressed out with age, it is pushed out of the disc, which appears as a bulging substance. It causes pain in a specific area as well as the spinal cord connected to the nerves. The type of treatment depends on the extent of severity and its location.

The symptoms of a bulging disc include back pain, walking issues, numbness in the legs, mobility of legs, knees and ankles reduced etc. However, in certain cases, there might be absolutely no symptoms visible at the initial stages.

What is Herniated Disc?

The spinal canal consists of the spinal cord, which is made of several bones. For these bones do not rub against each other, there is a gel-like substance in between the bones. This gel-like or rubbery substance is known as a disc. When the disc is pushed out due to any crack, a Herniated disc occurs.

A herniated disc is a condition where a part of the spine shows out from the outer layer of the spinal cord. This condition is also known as a slipped or ruptured disc. It occurs when a crack arises in the outer cartilage due to some reason, which pushes out the soft inner substance through it. This can take place anywhere in the spine, irrespective of its severity.

With age, the flexibility of discs decreases and as a result, they become more prone to wear and tear. Therefore, even when a small crack or tear arises in the disc, the gel comes out of it. Various types of treatments are there, which depend upon the type and extent of damage caused.

The symptoms of this condition include severe pain in the arms and legs, numbness, weakness etc. Just like bulging discs, some cases of herniated discs do not show any symptoms initially. An increase in body weight, genetics and smoking are some of the factors that can worsen the condition of a herniated disc.

Main Differences Between Bulging Disc and Herniated Disc

  1. In a bulging disc, the substance bulges out of the outer layer, while in a herniated disc, the disc has a crack.
  2. Bulging disc only affects the outer layer of cartilage, whereas herniated affects both inner and outer layers.
  3. Bulging is caused by wear and tear, and herniated disc is caused by crack.
  4. A herniated disc can be more painful in comparison.
  5. Treatments for bulging discs are more easily effective.


The spinal cord is made up of bones packed by rubbery discs from within. The disc is nothing but a gel-like substance that acts as a shock absorber. Any damage to the discs results in bulging out or rupture of the substance in it. This can cause two types of conditions. One is the bulging disc, and the other is the herniated disc.

When the disc bulges out of the outer cartilage, it is known as a bulging disc. In contrast, when the disc is ruptured due to a crack, it is known as a herniated disc. Both these conditions cause different types and extents of damage to the spinal cord. However, treatments of various ranges are available for disc degeneration conditions.


  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00296-005-0035-x
  2. https://europepmc.org/article/med/7584576
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