A ruptured disc, also known as a herniated disc, occurs when the inner gel-like material of an intervertebral disc seeps through a tear in the outer wall and into the spinal canal. Men in their 40s and women in their 50s are particularly susceptible to this condition, because by that stage of life, daily wear and tear has taken its toll on the integrity of the sponge-like cushions between the vertebrae. Discs tend to lose water content with age, and the outer wall becomes brittle. The mobile, weight-bearing components of the spine – particularly in the lumber (lower back) region – are especially vulnerable to ruptured disc development.
Stages of Disc Herniation
Research has shown that deterioration of the spinal anatomy actually begins in the second decade of life. By the time we reach middle age, many of us have already experienced one or more of the stages of a disc herniation:
- Degeneration – the disc begins to lose water content, diminishing its ability to provide a cushion between vertebrae; the outer wall becomes brittle and the disc begins to lose height.
- Prolapse – a portion of the gel-like substance at the center of the disc presses outward and causes a “bubble” to appear along the tough, fibrous outer layer.
- Extrusion – the “bubble” bursts or tears, causing disc matter to leak into the spinal canal.
- Sequestration – the leaking disc matter has broken free from the disc and is loose within the spinal canal.
Symptoms and Pain Management
Most of the time, a ruptured disc exhibits no symptoms. Only when disc material from a prolapse or extrusion interferes with neural activity – a pinched nerve – will symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness occur. These symptoms normally can be managed using pain medication, exercise, behavior modification or other conservative treatment. However, if chronic symptoms persist after several weeks of non-surgical treatment, surgery might become an option. If this is true for you, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure utilizing advanced, endoscopic techniques may help you rediscover your life without back or neck pain.