Posterolateral disc protrusion is the most common form of damage found on spinal discs. In general, disc protrusions and herniations are categorized based on the specific type of protrusion. In the case of a posterolateral protrusion, the problematic spinal disc has expanded out of its typical anatomical position and is pushing backward (posterior) and to the side (lateral), invading the central vertebral canal and potentially leading to nerve compression.
To better understand disc protrusion, it is helpful to review spinal anatomy. Normally, soft, pliable intervertebral discs are situated between each vertebra in the spine. Intervertebral discs act as the body’s shock absorbers while permitting flexibility and mobility. Aging and/or injury cause these pads to weaken, flatten and even herniate. The term posterolateral disc protrusion refers to when a disc bulges out from between vertebrae in a posterolateral direction. The protruding disc may encroach upon space in the central vertebral canal, compressing the nerve tissue there. It is this nerve compression that results in an individual’s symptoms.
The spinal column protects the spinal cord, the collection of nerve tracts that connects the brain with most of the body. Nerve roots separate from the spinal cord to the left and the right at each vertebral level, exit the spinal column and continue on to other areas of the body. With a posterolateral disc protrusion, the disc expansion occurs toward the back and side of the spine, possibly invading the space occupied by a nerve root and compressing it.
There are a number of possible causes and risk factors leading to posterolateral disc protrusion, such as:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Traumatic injury
- Poor posture
- Sports-related injury
- Other external factors, such as alcohol abuse or smoking
Disc protrusion symptoms can vary. In some cases, if a posterolateral disc protrusion has not caused nerve compression, no symptoms will result. In other cases, nerve compression can lead to local neck and back pain, muscle weakness, numbness and sciatica. To manage these symptoms effectively, a physician must confirm the presence of a protruded disc and ensure that there is no other cause of the symptoms. Disc protrusion treatments have made the prognosis quite good for symptomatic patients. Most often, physicians can manage a patient’s pain with a conservative, non-surgical treatment plan that includes exercise, physical therapy and pain medication. In the event that a patient doesn’t sufficiently respond to this treatment plan, however, a physician may recommend surgery as an option.
If you are considering surgery to treat your posterolateral disc protrusion, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive procedures, which are highly successful outpatient alternatives to traditional open back surgery.