Disc protrusions affect the intervertebral discs of the spinal column. Imagine the spine as a long, cylindrical structure made up of vertebrae with arches of bone posteriorly through which the spinal cord passes. Oval-shaped discs are interposed between each vertebra. Discs cushion the spine. Each disc consists of an outer wall, called an annulus fibrosus (literally “fibrous ring”), and an inner, gel-like material, called nucleus pulposus (literally “pulpy center”).
With aging, intervertebral discs degenerate, weaken and may be damaged. For instance, the disc may tear and extrude core material into the spinal canal (disc extrusion or herniated disc). If the disc does not tear, it may still be deformed and displaced from its normal position. This occurs a bit like expanding a water balloon outward by squeezing it in the center. Disc protrusions are similar to bulging discs, but the protruding part can be categorized as focal or broad-based. “Focal” simply means that less than 90 degrees of the disc circumference is protruding beyond the vertebrae above and below the disc. “Broad-based” implies that 90-180 degrees of its circumference is protruding outside of the vertebral boundaries. In cases of a bulging disc, the protrusion or bulge involves more than 180 degrees (or more than half) of the disc’s 360 degree circumference.
The trouble with a disc protrusion lies in the fact that the vertebrae surround small open spaces that house the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots. If part of an intervertebral disc pushes past its normal perimeter, it can then transfer stress to these nerves. This neural compression is what causes disc protrusion symptoms, including:
- Tingling – a “pins-and-needles” feeling in the extremities. This could be a feeling similar to when an arm or leg “falls asleep,” which is also due to temporary neural compression.
- Numbness – if neural compression due to disc protrusions is severe, there could be a complete loss of feeling in the extremities.
- Radiculopathy – pain that begins in the neck and radiates down through the arms (cervical disc protrusion), or begins in the lower back and radiates down to the feet (lumbar disc protrusion, producing a symptom which may be called sciatica because the disc protrusion is pressing on the sciatic nerve).
- Loss of motor skills – disc protrusion can cause muscles lose their strength and responsiveness.
If your physician suspects that disc protrusions are causing your symptoms, he or she will likely complete a full physical and an MRI or CT scan before diagnosing a neck or back disc protrusion. If you would like information about successful treatment options for disc protrusions, the experts at Laser Spine Institute can tell you about minimally invasive, endoscopic procedures. We are at the forefront of minimally invasive technology that may help you correct the cause of symptoms. Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan.