Wall protrusion of intervertebral discs is a common effect of aging. At birth, the human body contains about 90 percent water. By age 40, water content has reduced to 70 percent. The dehydration process continues throughout life. Elastin is a body protein which gives elasticity to body tissues. With aging, elastin chemically changes through a process called cross linking. Cross linking within elastin makes the protein less elastic or stretchable. As the body ages, intervertebral discs dehydrate and become stiffer. These two phenomena also make the disc flatter and weaker. Discs lose their ability to maintain structural integrity and can bulge or protrude into the surrounding areas of the spine. The outer wall of the disc may also tear, allowing the escape of the disc’s gelatinous core material, producing a herniated, ruptured or prolapsed disc.
To understand the nature of a back disc protrusion, it helps to compare it to similar disc conditions, including the following:
- Herniated disc – a tear in the outer wall of an intervertebral disc allows the inner gel-like core to escape into the area surrounding the disc.
- Bulging disc – a weakened, dehydrated disc becomes misshapen as pressure from the inner material pushes outward under the load of body weight. The disc is forced to bulge out between the vertebrae. A bulging disc typically involves more than 180 degrees of the oval-shaped disc’s circumference.
- Back disc protrusion – a smaller version of a bulging disc. The disc is still intact, but a lower percentage of the disc’s total circumference sags into the central vertebral canal. Ironically, when a smaller percentage of the disc bulges, the protrusion often extends further into the vertebral canal, making impingement upon nerve roots or the spinal cord more likely.
It should be noted that, in all of the above conditions, pain is a result of nerve compression. Therefore, the objective of treatment is to reduce that compression, thereby reducing symptoms. In addition to pain, there are other serious symptoms to consider, which depend on the exact location of the disc protrusion. Locations of disc protrusions include:
- Cervical disc protrusion – the cervical vertebrae are in the neck and upper back; causing pain, numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands
- Thoracic disc protrusion – the thoracic vertebrae are in the middle back; causing pain surrounding the rib cage or abdomen
- Lumbar disc protrusion – the lumbar vertebrae are in the lower back; pain may radiate from the back to the buttocks to the legs and feet; check for numbness or tingling as you bend down or arch your back
If you want more information about back disc protrusion or procedures aimed at relieving pressure on pinched nerves, contact the experts at Laser Spine Institute. Laser Spine Institute is at the forefront of minimally invasive technology and has helped tens of thousands of people. We can provide you with a review of your MRI or CT scan.