The thinning of a disc in the neck or back is an important sign of degenerative disc disease.
With age, the water that is found in the inner part of a disc decreases. This water and inner disc fluid 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, 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 out of alignment (bulging disc) and impacts a nerve root nearby. In some cases, pieces of the disc may break away (herniated disc) and irritate surrounding nerves.
For example, disc fragments can block the spaces, 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 should be conservative and noninvasive. A combination of bed rest, pain medication, physical therapy, and the use of heat or ice packs is effective for many patients. In the event that you have exhausted all conservative treatment options, your physician may recommend spine surgery to help relieve your pain and symptoms.
At Laser Spine Institute, we offer patients a safer, more effective way to treat spine conditions than traditional spine surgery. Our minimally invasive outpatient procedures have a 97 percent patient satisfaction score^ and a 98 percent patient recommendation rate.
For patients with a thinning disc, minimally invasive discectomy and stabilization may be recommended to restore health to your spine. During this procedure, the surgeon will make a small incision in the neck or back to access the spine. Through this incision, the damaged disc will be removed and an artificial disc will be inserted in its place. This will allow the spine to restore its proper spacing between vertebrae and release any pressure on a pinched nerve root. The artificial disc offers a much more natural, less complex healing process than the metal cage and rods that are used during a traditional open back fusion.
For more information about the advantages of our minimally invasive stabilization procedures and other minimally invasive spine surgeries, contact Laser Spine Institute today. We can review your MRI or CT scan and help you determine the best treatment option to help you recapture your life from chronic back pain.