A prolapsed disc may be referred to by several different terms, including a “ruptured disc,” a “herniated disc” or a “slipped disc.” All of these terms signify that a portion of an intervertebral disc’s gel-like nucleus has leaked into the spinal canal through a tear or split in the disc’s layered, cartilaginous outer wall. This can occur at any level of the spine, but is most frequently found in the lower back, where the lumbar vertebrae and discs bear much of the body’s weight, and where the body’s movement places the majority of stress over time.
Intervertebral disc degeneration often occurs in stages, and a prolapsed disc takes place in a relatively early stage. When a disc becomes thinner, dryer, or weaker due to age or injury, the disc can begin to protrude beyond its normal position between the vertebrae. This disc prolapse can eventually lead to a full herniation, or tearing, of the disc and the extrusion of nucleus material.
Prolapsed disc details
A traumatic spine injury may cause a prolapsed disc, but usually, the condition is related to normal wear and tear of the anatomical components of the spine. As we age, the water content within the intervertebral discs begins to diminish. When a disc becomes dehydrated, it loses flexibility and becomes brittle. The vertebrae above and below, however, will continue to apply their usual force on the now weakened disc, starting a normal chain reaction in which the gel-like center (the nucleus pulposus) of the disc exerts pressure on the tough, fibrous outer wall (the annulus fibrosus). As pressure builds on the already weakened wall, the integrity of the disc wall is compromised. A tear starts to form – often starting on the inside of the disc and working its way outward – and the nucleus begins to force its way out through the tear, leading to a herniated disc.
In many cases, a herniated, ruptured or prolapsed disc is asymptomatic and remains undetected. However, if extruded disc material irritates nerve endings in the disc’s wall, or impinges an adjacent nerve root or the spinal cord, it can produce the following symptoms:
- Pain or stiffness at the site of the disc prolapse
- Pain that radiates to regions of the body innervated by the impinged nerve
- Tingling or a reduction in sensation in associated regions of the body
- Weakness in the muscles of the arms or legs
Most patients find that disc prolapse symptoms can be treated conservatively, using physical therapy, pain and anti-inflammatory medication, stretching, exercise or rest. If conservative treatment proves ineffective after several weeks or months, Laser Spine Institute might be able to help. The surgeons at Laser Spine Institute use advanced techniques to perform minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that can help patients find relief from the pain associated with a prolapsed disc. Contact us to learn more and for a review of an MRI or CT scan.