Focal disc extrusion

Focal disc extrusion is a disc in the spine that has torn in one very small place along the disc’s outer layer. This is different than the common disc extrusion that tears in two or more places along the outer layer of the disc and often leaks part of the disc’s nucleus into the spinal canal.

For many people, a focal disc extrusion is caused by the natural aging process of the spine. This is a process that, while unavoidable, can cause tremendous damage to the structure of the spine, specifically the discs.

Each disc in the spine acts as a spacer or cushion for the vertebrae above and below it. As the vertebrae press against the discs from the constant pressure of weight gain and repetitive motion, a disc loses elasticity and the outer wall begins to weaken. When pressure from the nucleus forces a portion of the wall out of its normal boundary, the fibers in the wall can begin to split. In the case of a focal disc extrusion, the outer wall only tears in one small place. Nucleus material then seeps through the tear into the spinal canal.

Indications of focal disc extrusion

Most herniated discs or disc extrusions are asymptomatic, meaning they do not cause symptoms on their own. However, if the extruded disc material compresses or irritates a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord, the following symptoms can occur:

  • Inflammation at the site of the herniation
  • Pain that travels along the length of the affected nerve
  • Tingling or numbness in the areas of the body affected by the pinched nerve
  • Weakness in the muscle groups affected by the pinched nerve

A herniated disc can occur at any level of the spine, although it is most common in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions. This is because of wear and tear brought on by years of bending, twisting and turning, in addition to the neck and lower back bearing the weight of the head and upper body, respectively.

Treatment for focal disc extrusion

Symptoms associated with a herniated disc typically can be managed using a regimen of conservative treatments, including pain medication, exercise, stretching, behavior modification and other methods. Your physician can recommend a series of treatments specific to your condition and medical history.

However, if chronic symptoms persist after several months of conservative treatment, surgery may become an option. At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive spine surgery is often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open back surgery. That is because our careful, minimally invasive approach to the spine lowers our patients’ risk of complication and shortens the recovery time§ compared to traditional spine surgery.

To treat a disc extrusion, our surgeons would use a minimally invasive decompression surgery to remove the portion of the damaged disc that is pressing against the nerve root and causing your pain. Our team may recommend a minimally invasive stabilization surgery for severely damaged discs. In this case, instead of removing a small portion of the damaged disc, our surgeons would remove the entire disc and then insert an artificial one to maintain support and movement in the spine.

If you’re suffering from disc pain, it’s time to take the next step toward relief by contacting Laser Spine Institute and asking for a review of your MRI or CT scan. We can help you find the best treatment to help you get back to your life.