A bulging disc typically affects a large portion of the disk. The part of the disc that is bulging is usually the tough outer layer of cartilage. Bulging is considered part of the disc’s normal aging process and is commonly seen in MRIs for people of all ages, often with no pain.
A herniated disc (also called a ruptured or slipped disc) happens when the softer inner cartilage pushes through an opening in the tough outer layer of cartilage. Usually in a distinct area of the disc and not along a large component of the disc, (more typical of a bulging disc.) Though pain isn’t always present with a herniated disc, often it is.