The thinning of a disc in the neck or back is a key element of degenerative disc disease. With age, the water and protein content of intervertebral discs decreases, causing discs to become weaker, more brittle and thinner as they resist the pressures of everyday movement.
The degeneration of a disc is not necessarily symptomatic. Only in the case that adjacent neural tissue is impinged upon or otherwise inflamed do symptoms arise. In some cases, pieces of the disc might break away and irritate surrounding nerves. For example, disc fragments can block the spaces (or “foramina”) between vertebrae where nerve roots travel from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. This foraminal narrowing is called foraminal stenosis. Traversing spinal nerves may be pinched, impinged upon or irritated, producing symptoms. The resulting interference with nerve signals causes a range of symptoms at the site of the impinged nerve and along the distribution of the nerve in other areas of the body.
Furthermore, advanced thinning disc may allow the bony vertebrae on either side of the disc to rub together. The resulting contact encourages the growth of bone spurs (also known as osteophytes). These bony overgrowths also can impinge on nerves.
A thinning disc can affect any of the spinal segments, and depending on the pathology caused, can be the source of a variety of symptoms, including:
- Local, chronic back pain or neck pain
- Sciatica pain in a lower extremity
- Muscle weakness and atrophy
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Radiating pain along the nerve
The first step in treating a thinning disc and the other problems caused by degenerative disc disease is confirming proper diagnosis through gathering accurate medical history, careful physical examination and indicated medical testing. Testing may consist of blood analysis, electromyelography, and MRI or CT scanning. Once it is determined that a patient’s intervertebral discs are showing signs of thinning and testing confirms that the thinning is causing symptoms, treatment may be attempted. The initial treatment plan should be conservative and non-invasive. A combination of bed rest, pain medication, physical therapy and the use of heat or ice packs is effective in most patients. In cases where the patient has not responded to non-surgical pain management, surgical intervention to address nerve compression may be suggested.
To avoid unnecessary risk and excessive damage of normal tissue, it is reasonable to determine the least invasive effective surgical treatment possible. How to accomplish an effective treatment while maintaining the least disruptive course of action is the fundamental idea upon which Laser Spine Institute was conceived. With substantial effort and financial expenditure, the physicians at Laser Spine Institute have perfected innovative, highly successful, minimally invasive procedures for the treatment of spinal stenosis and many other spinal conditions. When conservative non-invasive treatment has failed, more invasive treatments are required. In the past, “more invasive” meant traditional open spinal surgery. However, “more invasive” no longer must mean traditional open spinal surgery. It now may mean minimally invasive spine surgery.
Please investigate the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. We offer efficacious procedures with shorter convalescent periods and lower risks than traditional open spine surgery of all types. Contact us today for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan, and to receive more information about Laser Spine Institute.