A mild disc protrusion is a condition in which an intact intervertebral disc extrudes beyond its normal cylindrical perimeter in the spinal column. This condition often occurs because a disc’s weak, thinning walls cannot withstand the pressure of the gelatinous disc core’s outward force.
Generally, the term “mild disc protrusion” implies a focal protrusion, meaning less than 90 degrees of the total disc circumference is protruding beyond its normal boundaries. A broad disc protrusion, on the other hand, involves between 90 and 180 degrees of circumference protruding outside normal boundaries.
According to the U. S. National Institutes of Health, at birth the human body contains 90% water, at adulthood it contains 70% water, and by age 90 it contains about 50% water. Additionally, the composition of elastin, the protein giving tissues the ability to stretch, chemically changes. With age elastin undergoes chemical cross-linking. This decreases the ability to stretch. Thus with aging, bodies desiccate and become less stretchable. These two facts explain disc protrusion. Discs have two main components, an outer fibro-elastic containment rim and an inner soft gelatinous core. When axial loading pressure occurs along the spinal column, the central gelatinous core of the disc squeezes outward against the fibro-elastic containment rim of the disc. The elastic recoil of the containment wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, reestablishing the height shape of the disc. As a person ages, natural daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc. Tiny tears may develop in the fibers of the fibro-elastic outer containment wall. This causes some loss of the disc’s outer containment wall elasticity and recoil. The outer disc containment wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer containment wall sags, forming a disc protrusion.
When any part of the disc pushes past its designated space, it may interfere with the surrounding spinal canal. For instance, a mild disc protrusion can press its way into the foramina (the open canals between the vertebrae that allow spinal nerves to enter and exit). If even one foramen (open space) is constricted, stress can be transferred directly to a nerve root.
Fortunately, some patients are able to find relief from mild disc protrusion symptoms with conservative, non-invasive treatments, including:
- Low-impact exercise – maintaining mobility and flexibility is crucial. Swimming and walking, gentle stretching, and range of motion exercises can help the body stay agile.
- Physical therapy –physical therapy that focuses on the spine can help relieve tension and increase circulation in the affected area. A therapist also may train patients on proper posture and lifting techniques.
- Medication – over-the-counter or prescription pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications can help to reduce pain so that physical therapy is more bearable.
- Steroid injections – an injection of cortisone, an anti-inflammatory, will temporarily help pain that results from the nerve compression accompanying a mild disc protrusion.
In some cases, patients may not respond to conservative treatment and surgery is prescribed. It is reasonable to determine the least invasive efficacious surgical treatment possible. Please investigate the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute, offering efficacious procedures with shorter convalescent period and lower risk when compared with traditional open spine surgery of all types. Contact us today for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan, and to receive more information about our institute.