Thinning disc — symptoms and treatment

The thinning of a disc in the neck or back is typically an indicator of degenerative disc disease.

With age, the water content of the spinal discs decreases. This water is a primary part of the inner disc fluid that is responsible for the disc’s height and width — an important measure to keep the spine and vertebrae in proper alignment. As the inner disc fluid decreases and the more elastic outer layer begins to dry out as well, the disc becomes weaker and is less resistant to the pressure of the surrounding vertebrae in the spine. If the compression in the spine is consistent, the weakened disc may begin to thin or flatten, creating instability in the spine.

Symptoms of a thinning disc

The degeneration of a disc is not necessarily symptomatic. Symptoms only occur if the thinning disc moves or bulges out of place and puts pressure on a nerve nearby. In some cases, inner disc material can push out of a tear in the outer layer and irritate surrounding nerves, which is called a herniated or ruptured disc.

For example, disc fragments can block the openings, called foramina, between vertebrae where nerve roots travel from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. This foraminal narrowing is called foraminal stenosis. The nerves traveling through the foraminal canal may be pinched or compressed during the narrowing, causing symptoms to occur. The resulting interference with nerve signals causes a range of symptoms at the site of the pinched nerve and along the distribution of the nerve in other areas of the body, such as the nearby arm or leg.

The most common symptoms associated with a thinning disc include:

  • Local, chronic back pain or neck pain
  • Sciatica pain in a lower extremity
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Radiating pain along the nerve

Treatment of a thinning disc

The initial treatment plan for a thinning disc is typically conservative in nature. A combination of rest, pain medication, physical therapy and the use of heat or ice packs is effective for many patients. In the event you have exhausted all conservative treatment options, your doctor may recommend spine surgery to help relieve your pain and symptoms.

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery as a safer and effective alternative to treat spine conditions when compared to traditional open spine surgery.^ For patients with a thinning disc, minimally invasive decompression or a minimally invasive stabilization procedure may be recommended to restore health to your spine. For more information about the advantages of our minimally invasive spine surgeries, contact Laser Spine Institute today.

We can review your MRI or CT scan at no cost* and help you determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.