Collapsed disc FAQ: Five frequently asked questions about collapsed discs in the spine

If you were recently diagnosed with a collapsed disc, you probably have a number of concerns, and that’s understandable. While you’ll want to rely on your physician for individualized advice and guidance, Laser Spine Institute can provide general answers to some commonly asked questions, which can help put your mind at ease as you learn about your condition and focus on your next steps.

Q. What is a collapsed disc?

A. Collapsed disc is a term used to describe a spinal disc that has lost a significant amount of height. As such, it may appear to have flattened out or collapsed. Because the discs serve as cushioning pads between vertebrae, a loss of disc height can interfere with spinal function.

Q. What causes a collapsed disc?

A. Most collapsed discs result from nothing more than age-related degeneration. Daily wear and tear can gradually take a toll on the spine over time. With age, the discs naturally lose water content, becoming more brittle and prone to breakdown. As a disc becomes dehydrated, it may lose height and “collapse,” although the process of losing height takes years and is not as sudden as the term “collapsed disc” implies.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. As a disc loses height, the vertebrae located immediately above and below it will move closer together. While this effect is usually not painful, it can reduce the space available for sensitive nerve roots that exit the spinal cord between vertebrae. If a spinal nerve becomes pinched, uncomfortable symptoms can develop at any point along the affected nerve’s pathway. For instance, pain, muscle weakness, numbness or tingling sensations may radiate from the spine down an arm or leg.

Q. What are the treatments for a collapsed disc?

A. Usually, a collapsed disc is initially treated conservatively. For instance, many people are able to find meaningful symptom relief after taking a brief rest and then performing targeted physical therapy. To address persistent discomfort, a physician may prescribe medications or an epidural steroid injection. Some people also benefit from alternative treatments, such as yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment.

Q. Will I need surgery?

A. In general, collapsed disc surgery is considered a last resort for addressing pain that remains intolerable even after several weeks or months of conservative treatment. Only you can decide what level of pain is tolerable for you.

If you are ready to begin exploring collapsed disc surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute. We can provide a free MRI review* along with any answers you need about your condition and surgical treatment options. Our surgeons perform minimally invasive outpatient surgery that is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^ Why not find out if you’re a candidate?