Collapsed disc in the back — causes, symptoms and treatments

A collapsed disc in the back is when a spinal disc loses height and is a condition that becomes more common for people over the age of 50. As part of the natural aging of the spine, the discs that support the vertebrae begin to weaken and shrink, as well as losing height and shape.

For many people, the changes in disc shape and height do not always cause symptoms, with pain and other problems typically being the result of nerve compression by displaced disc material. Specific symptoms from a collapsed disc include pain, muscle weakness and limited mobility both in the back and into the extremities. Understanding what this condition is and how it is caused can help you have a conversation with your physician about the treatment options available to you.

What is a collapsed disc and how is it caused?

A disc in the spine is responsible for supporting and cushioning the vertebrae, acting as a shock absorber so the vertebrae do not touch each other when the spine bends and twists.

Because the lower back is meant to support so much of the body’s weight, the discs in the back are especially susceptible to collapsing or bulging. Over years of pressure from the vertebrae with every movement, the elasticity in the disc’s outer layer can begin to wear down. This elasticity is what holds the disc in the proper shape and height, giving the spine and surrounding vertebrae support to bend and move. When the elasticity gives way, the disc can begin to lose height, resulting in a collapsed disc.

Symptoms of a collapsed disc in the back

Symptoms from a collapsed disc occur if a nearby nerve is pressed by displaced disc material or by vertebrae that are closer together due to loss of disc height. These symptoms may include:

  • Localized pain
  • Pain that radiates the length of a nerve, potentially into the extremities
  • Weakness
  • Tingling
  • Numbness

Treatment options for a collapsed disc

Conservative nonsurgical treatments are usually effective in managing the symptoms caused by a compressed nerve. Typical conservative treatments prescribed by doctors include physical therapy, pain medication, hot/cold therapy, exercise, massage and a variety of other therapies. These treatments aim to reduce the pressure from the spine on the pinched nerve and increase circulation to the damaged disc so your body can begin the healing process.

However, if conservative treatments do not bring you the pain relief you are expecting, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about the minimally invasive spine surgery at our state-of-the-art facilities. Spine surgery can be an overwhelming thought, but the procedures at Laser Spine Institute are intended to relieve some of that stress by offering patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery.^

If you’d like to learn more, reach out to the team at Laser Spine Institute today to request a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.