Collapsed disc — risk factors and treatments

If you have been diagnosed with a collapsed disc, the best place to start your research is at the beginning. The term “collapsed disc” is used to describe one of several spinal conditions that can cause an intervertebral disc to lose height, become thinner or become misshapen. These spinal conditions, which include degenerative disc disease and herniated discs, can sometimes lead to significant pain and discomfort when reduced disc space causes other components of the spine to shift out of place and compress a spinal nerve.

Intervertebral discs are natural shock absorbers between the bony vertebrae. Discs have two main components, an outer fibro-elastic containment rim and an inner soft gelatinous core. When pressure occurs along the spinal column, the jellylike core of the disc squeezes outward against the tough outer shell of the disc. The elastic recoil of the containment wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, re-establishing the height and shape of the disc. As a person ages, natural daily activity causes repeated compression of the disc. Small tears may develop in the fibers of the fibro-elastic outer containment wall. This causes some loss of the disc wall’s elasticity or recoil.

The outer disc containment wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer containment wall sags and is said to bulge or collapse. This condition remains asymptomatic unless neural tissue is entrapped. Only when entrapment occurs do symptoms develop, like with a compressed spinal nerve. Typical symptoms include localized or radiating pain, numbness, muscular weakness, and tingling.

Risk factors

Risk factors that can lead toward the development of a collapsed disc include both preventable and changeable factors, as well as those that are uncontrollable, including:

  • Weight — Patients who are overweight are more likely to develop a collapsed disc because of the extra stress that excess weight places on the neck and back.
  • Age — The spine naturally degenerates as we age. Patients who are over the age of 35 are more likely to develop a collapsed disc as a result of these degenerative changes.
  • Smoking — Tobacco use decreases oxygen levels in the blood, which can affect numerous parts of the body. Smoking can deprive the body of essential nutrients, and intervertebral discs are no exception. Carbon monoxide from smoking poisons enzymes, hastening degeneration.
  • Physical demands — Working in a physically demanding job or participating in high-impact sports, such as gymnastics and football, can place additional wear and tear on the spine. This overexertion can cause accelerated degenerative changes in the spine that may lead to a collapsed disc.


Patients who are already experiencing the symptoms caused by a collapsed disc have several treatment options. Many patients respond to over-the-counter pain medications and moderate exercise with intermittent rest. Patients who suspect they could have a collapsed disc may not respond to these conservative treatments and can benefit from the minimally invasive procedures performed by the surgeons at Laser Spine Institute. Call today for your MRI review to see if you are a candidate for our surgery.