How aging is a risk factor for disc extrusion

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Disc extrusion and age are very closely linked. With the exception of a few sudden causes of disc extrusion, like injury or trauma, the most common cause of disc damage or extrusion is the natural aging process of the spine. Learning more about the natural aging process of the spine can help with both the prevention and treatment of disc conditions like extrusion.

The natural aging process and disc degeneration

The spine naturally weakens over time due to the development of arthritis and other risk factors like weight gain and repetitive motion. As these factors create stress in the spine, the discs can become pressed and squeezed between the surrounding vertebrae. The discs themselves also undergo age-related changes, including loss of water content and height. Disc extrusion occurs when a crack or tear develops in the tough outer layer of the disc and the gelatinous inner-disc material is pushed out into the spinal column.

An extruded disc doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms on its own. In fact, you may have one or more extruded discs at this very moment that aren’t causing you any problems. Only when the disc bulges to the point that it places pressure on a nearby spinal nerve or the spinal cord will symptoms arise. These symptoms can include:

  • Localized pain at the site of compression
  • Pain that travels the length of the affected nerve
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness

Treatment for disc extrusion caused by age

It is possible for the body to heal a damaged disc on its own through a process called resorption that involves the body absorbing the damaged disc material. Because the body can heal an extruded disc on its own, initial treatment usually involves conservative options like medication, physical therapy, rest and hot/cold compression.

Surgery may be presented as an option for disc extrusion if weeks or months of conservative treatment do not bring the relief necessary for a good quality of life. If you are recommended to undergo a procedure, reach out to Laser Spine Institute to learn more about the benefits of minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery. Our minimally invasive decompression procedures treat extruded discs by removing a portion of the damaged disc that is causing nerve compression. We also provide minimally invasive stabilization procedures that are an alternative to traditional open spine fusion.

Contact our team today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.