Your Collapsed Disc Diagnosis — An Overview

If you have recently received a collapsed disc diagnosis from your physician, you likely have a few questions regarding this news, what it means and its possible future implications. This article will go into a little more detail about the physiology, symptoms and treatment options for a collapsed disc.

But first, it might help to discuss what could happen during the diagnostic process for a collapsed disc. A physician will suspect that a patient has a collapsed disc if the patient is experiencing pain, muscle weakness, numbness or a tingling sensation that travels to the extremities. So the first step in the diagnostic process is a discussion between the patient and the physician that covers the patient’s medical history and a full disclosure of the symptoms a patient is experiencing. A physical exam likely will follow, where the patient will be tested for nerve function, muscle strength and reflexes. From the information gleaned during this exam, a physician can be fairly certain a patient has an injured intervertebral disc. Imaging tests like a CT or MRI scan may follow so that the physician can confirm a disc collapse through detailed pictures of the spine.

Causes and symptoms

What will the physician see in the images that indicate a collapsed disc? The answer to that question starts with a general knowledge of the spinal anatomy. The intervertebral discs sit in between the spine’s vertebrae and serve as the semi-flexible shock-absorbing joints for the spine. Intervertebral discs, like other parts of the body, are subject to natural wear and tear as we age. This wear and tear process can be accelerated by certain postures, activities and genetic factors which affect the spine. Eventually, degeneration of the discs can lead to the breakdown of the tough outer wall that supports them, allowing the discs to lose strength and height.

Without a strong, tall disc to cushion and support them, two vertebrae around the disc may move closer together, causing damage to the delicate nerve roots between the vertebrae via friction and further inflammation. When the thinning of an intervertebral disc traps a nerve root and causes it to signal pain and other symptoms (radiculopathy) to the area of the body the nerve root serves, the collapsed disc diagnosis may be made. Besides pain, other common symptoms include numbness, muscle weakness and a tingling sensation, also known colloquially as the “pins and needles” effect.

Treatment options

Your physician has likely already discussed some possible treatment options with you after making the diagnosis of a collapsed disc. Depending on the person and on the severity of his or her condition, treatment options may include a combination of physical therapy, postural suggestions, anti-inflammatory medication and in some cases, surgery. Only about 10 percent of patients will eventually have need of surgery for a collapsed disc. To find out if you’re one of them, contact Laser Spine Institute today for a consultation.