What’s the Difference between a Herniated Disk and a Bulging Disk?

Chris Finney, Trial Attorney

Perhaps the most common injury we see resulting from a car crash is a herniated disk or a bulging disk. And the question that comes up is “what’s the difference?” or “how do we tell the difference?” A lot of that depends on the radiology reads or what the radiologist reads.

A herniated disk is typically a greater protrusion outside the vertebral column. A bulge is a little bit smaller.

There are a million analogies for a herniated disk or a bulging disk. One that works pretty well is a tire. A tire is typically made of stands of layers or something all the way around it. If you’ve ever burned a tire, you’d see it’s made of a bunch of individual parts. Your disk is much like that, and what happens to it when it’s compressed.

When the outer edge is compromised, you’ll have a split. Or, which is typical, you can have an annular tear. When there’s pressure or damage applied or injury, you can have where the disk bulges out, and that’s a disk bulge; it sounds very simple.

If there’s more injury or more pressing, you can have what’s called a herniation, where the disk actually shoots out in a certain area, sometimes circumferentially or all the way around, sometimes to the right or to the left or to the front or the back. It really depends on each individual injury.

But typically, the difference between a herniated disk and a bulging disk is just the size of the protrusion outside of the normal space of the disk.

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Posted Under: Car Accident FAQs, Truck Accident FAQs