Bulging & Herniated Discs

Bulging and herniated disc.

A bulging or herniated intervertebral disc (we will simply call them “discs” from here on out) can be a very painful condition. An injury to the disc can cause pain on its own, or it can cause nerve irritation or nerve compression that can occur at any level of the spine. When a nerve is affected, the pain and dysfunction can be much more intense. Most commonly, bulging or herniated discs occur in the low back (lumbar spine), but they may also occur in the neck or middle back. With a detailed history and examination, chiropractors can help you figure out whether or not your pain is related to a disc problem.

Disc Anatomy

Discs themselves are not very complicated. They are the cartilage that sits between each of the vertebrae to absorb shock when we move. There are two main parts to the disc—the outer layers are tough and surround an inner jelly-like center. An easy way to think about this is to picture a big slice of onion with the inner layers removed and filled with gel toothpaste.


Herniated disc.

Even though those outer layers are tough, they can be weakened by age, general wear and tear, a sedentary lifestyle and/or obesity. Weakened discs are more easily damaged by repetitive motion, force, and the act of lifting heavy weight and then shifting that weight. When the outer layers of the disc are weak, the pressure from the jelly-like center pushes on the weak layers and changes the shape of the disc. We call that change to the shape of a disc a bulge, or prolapse. The outer layers of the disc can also tear, and if that jelly-like center starts to ooze between the torn layers, that is a disc herniation.

In both a disc bulge and a disc herniation, the changed shape of the disc can put pressure on the nearby nerves and/or spinal cord, and that pressure often causes pain. The location of the disc bulge or herniation may cause pain in other areas. For example, a bulging or herniated disc in the low back (lumbar spine) may cause radiating pain, numbness or tingling, or muscle weakness in one or both legs and/or feet. A disc problem in the neck (cervical spine) may cause similar symptoms in the arms or hands.


To diagnose a disc problem, chiropractors perform neurologic and orthopedic tests during your initial examination. These tests help figure out whether you have a disc problem, and which nerves may be affected by a disc bulge or herniation. Depending on the findings of your physical examination and the severity of your symptoms, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or x-rays may be requested. Chiropractors sometimes look at the spacing between the vertebrae on an x-ray to get an idea of the disc height and spine health in general, but an MRI is the best way to get detailed information about soft tissues, such as discs. It is possible that a bulging or herniated disc is seen on an MRI but is not causing any discomfort, so sometimes the condition is discovered when a person has an MRI for some other reason.

Treatment Options

Chiropractors may offer a variety of treatment options if you are diagnosed with a bulging or herniated disc. One very common treatment method for a bulging or herniated disc is flexion-distraction therapy. With flexion-distraction therapy (often referred to as F&D), your body will be gently put through a series of bending and tugging motions that create more space between the vertebrae for the disc to sit, which also helps take pressure off nerves in the area of the disc bulge.

Similar to flexion-distraction therapy is mechanical traction, which is a gentle, longer-lasting pull on the affected area, again to create more space between the vertebrae for the disc. Mechanical traction is often done using a machine that is monitored by the chiropractor or assistant. Spinal manipulation may also be a treatment option for a disc problem, to restore the correct joint motion in the spine and encourage disc healing.

Some chiropractors use other therapies in the office, such as therapeutic ultrasound, cold laser treatment or interferential current (IFC) to take care of the muscles and nerves that may be affected by a bulging or herniated disc, along with other specific techniques that focus on healing bulging or herniated discs.

At-home care can be an important part of your treatment plan as well. You may be shown stretches and exercises to do at home between your visits.

There are many different options for treating a bulging or herniated disc. Chiropractors can help diagnose a disc problem and create a treatment plan with you to decrease your discomfort and improve the health of your spine.

Reviews By Our Satisfied Patients

  • "I've been coming to see Dr. Bob since 1984 for my back pain. After each visit, the vast improvement lasts about one whole month. Even after all these years, Dr. Bob continues to provide outstanding care for me, my children, and my grandchildren. I've referred several people to HealthWise Chiropractic, so they too can see the results I have. My favorite part of my visits is the friendliness and professionalism of the staff and doctors and, of course, the results I get that improve my daily living."
    Danny S.
  • "About ten years ago I was at the gym, I bent over and couldn't get up, the pain was horrible. I contacted Healthwise and Dr. Mike gave me an emergency appointment that evening. He did a complete physical and x-ray before he started any treatment. After my first treatment I was able to stand up and walk with minimal pain. With a few visits I was back to normal. I continued treatments as needed for the next several years.
    I see Dr. Bob regularly to stay fit and pain-free. He tests my strength and weakness to determine the best treatment. Our open discussion led him to help my acid reflux. I now exercise and walk as is essential for a septuagenarian.
    I told Dr. Bob that I was starting to get knee pain that I thought was arthritis; I didn't think chiropractic care could help. He told me about new equipment to help. I look forward to improvement.
    I was a skeptic of chiropractic care, now I would recommend HealthWise to anyone with chronic/simple pain. It worked for me. It can work for you!"
    Sherry B.
  • "I was very miserable with constant pain in my leg while knowing it had something to do with my back. My friend surprised me with an appointment with Dr. Bob. After being treated by Dr. Bob I knew right away it was exactly what I needed. I learned a lot through my conversations with the doctor. I am really thankful to Dr. Bob and his staff."
    Ed L.
  • "I had a very limited understanding of chiropractic care until I tried it for the first time 12 years ago. I came in with severe pain in my neck, which prohibited me from moving my head. I was greeted by a kind staff, had an exam and x-rays done on my first appointment followed by an adjustment. I felt so much better after my first adjustment and by following the treatment plan my headaches and migraines improved. My overall health has improved because of chiropractic care. Dr. Bob helps make sure that I am taking the right supplements to optimize my health and fitness performance. They have helped me with allergies, knee and shoulder pain, and earaches. I had no idea when I began my chiropractic journey just how much help the doctors and staff at HealthWise would be at improving my quality of life."
    Britt H.
  • "I have been a patient at HealthWise Chiropractic for over 20 years. In the past and currently I am seeing Dr. Bob, however, I have seen all docs at Healthwise. My general issues are usually seasonally related to sinus and allergies. Recently I have been receiving treatment for my hip and lower back. Dr. Bob zeros in on trigger points and quickly relieves my pain. He is a wealth of knowledge and offers help and suggestion on my health issues. The staff is friendly and helpful. I leave feeling better and I believe helps to keep my body aligned and energized. I have also come in after falls, injuries and surgeries. I truly believe my adjustments at the time added to a quicker recovery."
    Liz B.
  • "I have been a patient of Dr. Bob for two and half months. . I see him for an adjustment every two weeks. I started seeing a chiropractor for the first time in January 2021 while working in Florida for my continued lower back pain and chronic bilateral hip bursitis. Because my pain was mostly relieved with continued adjustments, I decided to continue with treatment when returning to Wisconsin. I have been very happy with my continued pain relief/adjustments at HealthWise. I highly recommend anyone with chronic back and neck pain to try chiropractic adjustments here at HealthWise. It will make your life better."
    Marianne V.
  • "Really enjoyed the different things that they can do for you and your pain management. Would highly recommend."
    Rhiannon P.
  • "I enjoy coming, getting readjusted and any additional therapies. It has made my life healthier and less stressful. If I have questions, they are answered at that visit. The staff is very professional, personable and friendly. I always look forward to my next visit with them. I am glad to be part of Healthwise Chiropractic family:)"
    Marcella L.
  • "Dr. Mike is fantastic! He is very personable….will take time to really to your needs… I enjoy my visits…the maintenance has helped tremendously…..and he is there when the emergency pops up! Excellent Chiropractor!"
    Ann W.

Appointment Request

Schedule an Appointment Today

Our Location

Find us on the map

Office Hours

Find Out When We Are Open



9:00 am – 6:00 pm


9:00 am – 6:00 pm


9:00 am – 6:00 pm


9:00 am – 6:00 pm


9:00 am – 4:30 pm