The most common symptoms of a bulging or herniated disc include arm or leg pain, numbness and tingling, and muscle weakness, according to Mayo Clinic. Some people have herniated discs but experience no symptoms.
Doctors diagnose herniated discs using a patient's medical history, physical exam and imaging tests. The physical exam includes watching how the patient walks, testing to see if the patient is able to feel a light touch on the skin on the lower extremities and testing the reflexes, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. An MRI scan provides doctors with clear images of the soft tissues, including the discs. Doctors use the straight leg test on patients under 35, and pains that shoot down the leg during this test indicate a herniated disc.
For 90 percent of patients, avoiding painful exercise, engaging in prescribed exercise and taking pain medication alleviates the herniated disc. Mild to moderate pain often responds to over-the-counter pain medications, but Mayo Clinic indicates that more severe pain often requires prescription medication. Physical therapy is also helpful in reducing pain.
If other attempts at relieving the pain do not work, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons indicates a small number of patients require surgery. Microdiskectomy is the most common form of surgery for bulging discs, and it involves the removal of the herniated disc material to relieve the pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.