A prolapsed disc is a condition that is commonly referred to in several different ways, including a ruptured disc, a herniated disc, and a slipped disc. All of these terms are used interchangeably to indicate that a portion of a disc’s gel-like nuclear material has leaked out into the spinal canal through a tear or split in the disc’s layered, cartilaginous outer wall. This condition can occur at any level of the spine, but it is frequently found in the lower back, where the lumbar vertebrae and discs bear much of the body’s weight, and where the body’s ongoing movements produce significant stress on the spine over time.
Disc degeneration often occurs in several stages, and disc prolapse takes place at a relatively early stage. When a disc becomes thinner, drier, or weaker due to age or injury, it can begin to protrude beyond its normal position between the vertebrae. This condition can eventually lead to a dull herniation, or tearing, of the disc’s outer wall and the subsequent extrusion of nuclear material.
If you think you have a prolapsed disc or another form of disc damage – such as disc herniation in your spine, you should contact your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis and discuss the possible treatment options. Your doctor can answer any questions you have and help you take a step toward pain relief.
Causes of a Prolapsed Disc
A traumatic spine injury can cause a prolapsed disc, but the condition is most often related to the normal wear and tear that occurs over time on the parts of the spine. While cumulative stress on the spine is inevitable, certain factors have been shown to increase the likelihood that an individual will develop a prolapsed disc, such as heredity, repetitive activity, prolonged activity, an unhealthy weight, and smoking.
As part of the natural aging process, the water content within the discs slowly begins to diminish. When a disc becomes dehydrated, it loses flexibility and becomes brittle, and is less able to withstand the normal pressures being exerted by the vertebrae situated immediately above and below it. As a result, a chain reaction can occur in which the gel-like inner material of the compromised disc exerts pressure on the tough, fibrosis outer wall that normally contains it. As pressure builds on the already weakened disc wall, its integrity can be compromised. A tear can begin to form, typically starting on the inside of the disc and working its way outward. This causes the inner-disc material to force its way out of the opening, leading to a prolapsed disc.
Symptoms of a Prolapsed Disc
In many cases, a prolapsed disc is asymptomatic and remains undetected, allowing you to go about your daily life as usual. However, if the extruded disc material irritates nerve endings in the disc’s wall or impinges an adjacent nerve root or the spinal cord itself, it can produce uncomfortable symptoms like localized discomfort and radiating pain, tingling, numbness, stiffness, and muscle weakness.
The symptoms that arise when extruded disc material irritates or compresses sensitive neural tissue can manifest either locally or elsewhere in the body, depending on the area of the body affected by the compressed nerve root. There are 31 pairs of nerve roots situated along the spine including eight in the cervical spine, 12 in the thoracic spine, five in the lumbar spine, five in the sacrum, and one in the coccyx.
The type of prolapsed disc treatment prescribed by a physician will depend on the severity and location of the damaged disc. Most patients find that disc prolapse symptoms can be treated conservatively with activity modification, physical therapy, pain, and anti-inflammatory medications. Additionally, many patients find alternative treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and massage to be highly effective.
For pain that is severe or debilitating, a physician might recommend a series of corticosteroid injections which can reduce painful inflammation to produce relief that lasts for weeks or months of conservative therapy to prove to be ineffective for helping you find symptom relief.
If these conservative options do not help, you may be a candidate for surgery. If you are interested in learning more about the surgical procedures for a prolapsed disc offered through BEST Health System, contact our team today.