Spinal disc prolapse is another name for a ruptured or herniated disc, which also is known as a “slipped” disc. These terms all refer to the same condition – a tear or split in the outer wall of an intervertebral disc, through which some of the disc’s gel-like nucleus escapes into the spinal canal. It can occur anywhere along the spine, but is most common in the lower back, where the lumbar vertebrae bear much of the body’s weight and support rigorous activities like heavy lifting, walking, and running.
Spinal disc prolapse can be caused by traumatic injury, but usually is related to the slow deterioration our bodies experience through the years. With age, the water content of the intervertebral discs begins to diminish. When a disc dries out, it loses elasticity and becomes brittle. The vertebrae above and below compress the disc, which can cause the gel-like center (the nucleus pulposus) to place pressure on the tough, fibrous disc wall (the annulus fibrosus). As that pressure builds, the integrity of the disc wall is compromised and the nucleus begins to force its way out through the weakest point in the wall – leading to spinal disc prolapse. As mentioned before, a disc prolapse can occur virtually anywhere in the spinal column – whether it’s a prolapsed cervical disc (in the neck), a thoracic disc prolapse (in the middle back), or most frequently, a prolapsed lumbar disc (in the lower back).
In many cases, a herniated, ruptured, or prolapsed disc is asymptomatic and remains undetected, because extruding disc material may not irritate or impinge an adjacent nerve root. However, when a pinched nerve occurs, it can produce the following prolapsed disc symptoms:
- Localized pain at or near the site of herniation
- Pain in regions of the body innervated by the pinched nerve
- Numbness or tingling in associated regions of the body
- Muscle weakness in the arms or legs
- Paralysis in extreme cases
In most patients, the symptoms associated with spinal disc prolapse can be treated non-surgically, using physical therapy, pain medications, exercise, or rest. If weeks or months of conservative treatment prove ineffective, and the patient is experiencing extreme symptoms that compromise the ability to live a normal life – a doctor might suggest surgery as an option. Laser Spine Institute (LSI) offers an alternative to traditional open back surgery. The award-winning surgeons at LSI use gentle, endoscopic techniques to perform minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that can help a patient rediscover a life the without the pain associated with a prolapsed disc. Contact LSI to learn more, or for a free review of an MRI or CT scan.