What Does a Disc Bulge or Disc Herniation Look Like?

So you’ve been given the findings of the MRI imaging report and told what the problem is in your lower back or neck. It can be hard to visualise what a disc bulge or a disc herniation looks like. Especially if you don’t know biology or ever studied human anatomy in school or college.

Looking at an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the spine is a specilized field. It is filled with black, white and grey images that are meant to tell a story to a professional. These medical images are the best for assessing the spinal discs, joints and ligaments in your spine. Radiologists have had to come up with a spinal disc injury classification that they use to determine exactly what type of disc injury they can see on your scan and how to classify how severe it is.

Below are some easy to understand and patient friendly pictures of disc bulges and ruptured herniated discs. Use these plus you MRI report and images to try help you to see what is happening to the intervertebral disks and structure. See the beginning to advanced stages of spinal degeneration and how each one looks.

Spinal Disc Anatomy Pictures

Firstly this picture below shows you from the side and from the top the stages of a disc herniation compared to a disc bulge.

Disc Herniation Pictures

These two next pictures are another way to see these changes from a bulging disc in your back which then degenerates into a disc herniation, which eventually becomes a ruptured herniated disc with a free fragment breaking off into the spinal canal.

The disc degeneration stages below are bulge -> protrusion -> extrusion -> free fragment.

Disc Degeneration

Severe Herniated Disc

In this last picture you can see a close up of the spinal anatomy of the disc, which has now herniated with a free fragment and is touching the nerve root leaving between the two vertebrae. This situation is also called a disc sequestration.

Pinched Nerve from Disc Herniation

These type of spinal disc injuries and anatomical changes can occur both in your neck and your lower back. If you need some home treatment tips then check out these lumbar spine options and these cervical spine options. If you are really struggling to stand up and lift a weight because of a lumbar injury, you may need an wearable external support belt. We reviewed the best back braces for disc injuries over here.

Last Updated: November 15, 2016