Philip Rivers’ Injury: Bulging vs. Herniated Discs

Football players practicing on a field.
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San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers recently announced that he has been playing with a bulging disc in his lower back for weeks, and plans to continue doing so despite being told that he could further his injury. While this may sound scary, a bulging disc can be commonly found in someone who plays a high-impact sport like football. In fact, both herniated and bulging discs are often seen in non-professional athletes and any adult aged 30 to 50 years old. With this in mind, Rivers’ injury provides a good opportunity to explain what these two conditions are, and what you can start doing today to keep your back safe.

Bulging vs. Herniated Discs – What’s the Difference?

A bulging disc is when the jelly-like fluid inside the disc begins to bulge out of the tissue without fully rupturing. This can happen as a normal part of aging, or when excessive force is put on the spine, such as in a traffic accident or high-impact sport. Some people who have a bulging disc experience no pain at all, while others experience severe pain that keeps them off their feet. If needed, bulging discs can be treated with physical therapy and pain management injections to help reduce inflammation and discomfort.

A herniated disc occurs when a bulge begins to tear through the tough outer layer of tissue, causing the jelly-like fluid inside the disc to protrude out. This leaked fluid can press against the spinal cord that runs behind the discs, causing pain, tingling, weakness or numbness that radiates down the arms or legs. Herniated discs can be treated with physical therapy, pain management injections and possibly surgery if the condition is more severe.

Treating a Bulging Disc

Prevention is key when you are treating a bulging disc. Practice proper body mechanics and work on strengthening your core muscles to avoid further injury. Rivers is currently receiving epidural injections to help reduce the pain and swelling associated with his bulging disc, and he may consider having surgery at the end of the season if his condition doesn’t improve with conservative treatment. Surgery would keep him off the field for several weeks, but it may prove to be the best choice to help him get back in top shape for next season.

We wish Rivers the best of luck with his treatment!

If you suffer from back pain as a result of an injury, contact Dr. Chetan Patel at the Spine Health Institute. He can help you get back on your feet in no time.


Spine photo courtesy of
Philip Rivers photo courtesy of

Gehlken, M. (n.d.). QB Philip River has bulging disk. Retrieved from

Physical Therapist's Guide to Herniated Disk. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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