Posterolateral disc protrusion is the most common form of spinal disc disorder. 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 normal anatomical position and is pushing backward (posterior) and to the side (lateral),invading the central vertebral canal, potentially leading to nerve compression. .
To better understand disc protrusion, it is helpful review spinal anatomy. Normally, soft, pliable intervertebral discs lie 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 possibly herniate. The term posterolateral disc protrusion means the disc has bulged out from between the vertebrae in a posterolateral direction. The protruding disc may encroach upon space in the central vertebral canal normally occupied by nerve tissue compressing it. It is this nerve compression that results in an individual’s symptoms.
The spinal column protects the spinal cord, the collection of nerve tracts connecting 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, compressing it.
There are a number of causes of posterolateral disc protrusion, such as:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Traumatic injury
- Sports-related injury
- Poor posture
- 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 present. In other cases, 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 not another underlying cause of the symptoms. Fortunately, disc protrusion treatments have made the prognosis quite good for symptomatic patients. Most often, physicians can manage a patient’s pain through 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, a physician may recommend surgery as an alternative.
If you are considering surgery to treat your posterolateral disc protrusion, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery, a highly successful outpatient alternative to traditional open back surgery.