Lateral disc protrusion is a technical-sounding term that’s easier to understand when broken down into its individual parts. “Lateral” is an anatomical term meaning “side” and can refer to the left or right side of the body. A “disc protrusion” occurs when a disc located in between the vertebrae sags or bulges. A lateral disc protrusion, therefore, is a disc that is enlarged or bulging on the left or right side of the spinal column.
When a disc protrusion occurs laterally, or on the side of the spinal column, there is a chance that the protrusion will press on a nerve root. The spinal column creates a strong, bony protection for the spinal cord, the bundle of nerves that travels from the brain to the lower back. At every level of the spinal cord, nerve roots branch off to the left and to the right. When a lateral disc protrusion occurs on the left or right side of the spinal column, the protrusion is in close proximity to nerve roots. Therefore, it makes sense that the nerves may become pinched by the protrusion.
The deterioration of the spine that comes with age is the main cause of disc protrusion. However, injury, overuse of the neck and back, obesity and particular lifestyles may hasten the formation of a disc protrusion. The spine contains two dozen discs, each located between the bony vertebrae. The discs are soft and pliable, and provide excellent cushioning for the spine as it goes through its everyday motions. With aging, discs become susceptible to damage. When damage occurs, the soft inner core of the disc pushes on the disc’s strong, fibro-elastic outer wall. Eventually, the outer wall weakens and may bulge into the spinal canal, where it can pinch or compress spinal nerves.
Lateral disc protrusion often goes unnoticed when there’s no nerve contact. However, pain may present itself if the disc places undue pressure on a nearby nerve root. Since multiple discs may bulge simultaneously, it is often difficult to diagnose which specific disc is placing enough pressure on neural tissue to cause symptoms. Lateral protrusions account for less than 10 percent of all disc protrusion cases.
Disc protrusion symptoms depend largely on the location and origin of the nerve compression. Individuals may be diagnosed with any combination of a cervical disc protrusion (in the neck), thoracic disc protrusion (in the middle back) or a lumbar disc protrusion (in the lower back). A wide range of symptoms are common, including:
- Pain that travels or radiates to other areas of the body
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness and tingling in the arms and legs
- Acute pain
- Chronic pain
Treatment of a lateral disc protrusion first requires correct diagnosis, which is often achieved with the assistance of medical imagery. Once the source of the problem has been identified, physicians typically try to manage the symptoms conservatively. Heating pads, exercise and painkillers all can be effective against neck and back pain.
In some cases, patients may not respond to conservative treatment and surgery is considered. It is best for a patient to explore the least invasive surgical treatment possible. Please consider the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute, which offers effective procedures with shorter recovery periods and lower risk than traditional open spine surgeries of all types. Contact us today for a review of your MRI or CT scan and to receive more information.