Intervertebral disc protrusion

An intervertebral disc protrusion is similar to a bulging disc. However, disc protrusion is often used to describe a smaller area of the disc’s circumference bulging. Both conditions involve the spinal discs pushing beyond the normal perimeter of the spinal column.

A disc protrusion is often more likely to be symptomatic than a bulging disc because protrusions can extend farther into the central spinal canal. A protrusion may indicate that the intervertebral disc is approaching a rupture point. If the disc ruptures and the inner disc material (nucleus pulposus) escapes from the weakened outer disc layer (annulus fibrosus), the condition is known as a ruptured or herniated disc.

Disc protrusion causes

An intervertebral disc protrusion is usually the result of aging. Over time, our discs experience wear and tear from constant movement. The outer layer of a disc weakens and loses elasticity. The inner layer, under the stress of everyday pressures, moves beyond its normal boundaries. Because the outer layer has weakened, it cannot prevent the inner layer from extending.

Eventually, the disc can collapse and extend outside of its regular position. Disc protrusions can push on spinal nerves as they pass through the spinal column on their way to other parts of the body. This neural pressure is what ultimately causes disc protrusion symptoms like pain, muscle weakness and other symptoms.

Disc protrusion treatment

To help relieve the pain associated with intervertebral disc protrusion, physicians may recommend nonsurgical, conservative treatment, including:

  • Physical therapy — Gentle stretching and muscle building can strengthen surrounding muscles, lessening the pressure on the damaged area.
  • Mild exercise — Low-impact cardiovascular workouts can help build endurance, which can increase mobility and flexibility.
  • Steroid injections — Cortisone is often injected into the epidural space as a way to reduce inflammation.
  • Medication — Prescription and over-the-counter drugs aimed at pain relief and inflammation reduction can help you continue your physical therapy and exercise plan.

The above treatments are not effective for every patient who experiences disc protrusion, however, and surgery may be required in some cases. If your disc protrusion symptoms have not responded to conservative treatment, consider minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute, which is an alternative that avoids much of the risk and difficulty of traditional open spine surgery.

We offer minimally invasive outpatient procedures that have helped more than 75,000 patients with neck and back conditions like disc protrusion. We have a patient satisfaction score of 98 and patient recommendation score of 98 out of 100.^

Contact us to learn more about our procedures and to receive your no-cost MRI review* — you may be a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine procedures.