Posterior disc protrusion refers to a disc that has weakened and expanded backward from its normal anatomical position. When a disc protrudes, it may compress a nerve structure, causing irritation and inflammation. It is this nerve compression that leads to a patient experiencing pain and other symptoms.
In a properly functioning spine, soft intervertebral discs cushion the vertebrae and act as the body’s shock absorbers. However, these discs degenerate as a result of aging or injury. This deterioration can cause the jelly-like center of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, to push outward against the strong elastic outer layer, called the annulus fibrosus. With aging, the disc’s elastic properties decrease. The disc then may bulge out but not return to its original shape, similar to what happens when a marshmallow is pressed. When a disc bulges, protrudes or herniates, it may pinch a nerve or interfere with nerve activity at a neighboring nerve root, causing discomfort.
A posterior disc protrusion is a disc that has bulged toward the “posterior” or “back” (away from the abdomen) of its usual position. The posterior side of the disc is adjacent to the spinal cord and nerve roots branching off the spinal cord. A posterior bulge, therefore, can place direct pressure on these sensitive nerves.
A posterior disc protrusion can be classified by the exact location of the bulge in relation to nerve tissue:
- Lateral disc protrusion – the protrusion is to the left or right of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on nerve roots
- Central disc protrusion – the protrusion is toward the center of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on the spinal cord
- Posterolateral disc protrusion – the protrusion is to the back and left or back and right side of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on nerve roots
- Paracentral disc protrusion – the protrusion is near the center of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on the spinal cord and nerve roots
Disc protrusion symptoms can include any combination of the following if nerve tissue is being pinched:
- Chronic, local neck and back pain
- Tingling or numbness
- Muscle weakness
- Traveling pain radiating along the nerve’s path
- Incontinence in extreme cases; this would require emergency treatment
- The sensation of pins and needles or heat
Disc protrusion treatments are normally non-surgical. Once the origin of the discomfort is determined, a physician typically attempts conservative pain management methods, such as exercise, the use of a back brace for support and pain medication. In the event that the patient does not respond sufficiently to these treatments, then surgery may be warranted.
The team at Laser Spine Institute offers an appealing option for patients experiencing pain resulting from disc protrusion – minimally invasive spine procedures. Minimally invasive procedures help alleviate pain with the use of micro-surgical tools through a small incision. To learn more about how minimally invasive spine procedures may help you find pain relief from a posterior disc protrusion, and for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan, contact Laser Spine Institute today.