Types of Collapsed Discs — Categorizing Intervertebral Disc Collapse by Location

Read about these collapsed disc types to learn which symptoms they may cause.

There are a few types of collapsed discs that can affect the spine, but those involving the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine are both the most common and the most readily treatable. The cervical and lumbar regions refer to those parts of the spine located in the neck and lower back, respectively. Collapsed discs can also affect the thoracic region of the spine, which is composed of the 12 vertebrae located in between the cervical and lumbar regions; but, since conditions affecting the thoracic spine are relatively rarer, we will devote more time to describing the other two types.

Regardless of type, the most commonly reported symptoms of a collapsed disc are pain, numbness, tingling and decreased muscle functioning in the extremities.

What distinguishes the different types of collapsed discs?

The main difference between cervical and lumbar collapsed discs is the location of symptoms reported by the patient. Cervical collapsed discs are expected to produce their characteristic symptoms in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands and/or fingers. Some patients with cervical radiculopathy (a technical term for pathologic conditions affecting the nerve roots) also report having headaches.

Collapsed discs affecting the lumbar region of the spine, on the other hand, are expected to produce symptoms in the lower body, such as the buttocks, legs, feet and/or toes. One common consequence of a collapsed lumbar disc is sciatica, which is radiculopathy affecting the longest nerve in the human body — the sciatic nerve.

Complications of lumbar collapsed discs — sciatica

Sciatica is the term used to describe a particular group of symptoms that typically follow the impingement of the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lumbar region of the spine, through the pelvis, and down each leg all the way down to the feet. When this nerve is pinched or trapped, it can cause (usually one-sided) pain and numbness in the lower back, buttocks, leg and foot. This type of pathologic nerve pain is distinguished primarily by the large amount of potential causes it can have. Anything from a collapsed lumbar disc to muscle spasms – and even carrying a wallet in your back pocket — can cause sciatica, so it’s best to consult your physician before coming to the conclusion that your symptoms are due to any one condition.