Posterior disc protrusion — classification and treatment

Posterior disc protrusion refers to a spinal disc that has weakened and expanded backward from its normal position. When a disc protrudes, it may compress a nerve, causing irritation and inflammation. This nerve compression leads to pain and other symptoms.

In a properly functioning spine, soft discs cushion the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. However, these discs degenerate as a result of aging or injury. This deterioration can cause the jelly-like center of the disc to push outward against the tough outer layer. With aging, the disc’s elastic properties decrease. The disc can then bulge out but not return to its original shape, similar to what happens when a marshmallow is pressed. When a disc bulges, protrudes or herniates, it may pinch a nerve, causing pain and limited mobility.

A posterior disc protrusion is a disc that has bulged toward the posterior — rear, or away from the abdomen — of its usual position. The posterior side of the disc is adjacent to the spinal cord and nerve roots branching off the spinal cord. A posterior bulge, therefore, can place direct pressure on these sensitive nerves.

Classification and symptoms of a posterior disc protrusion

A posterior disc protrusion can be classified by the exact location of the bulge in relation to nerve tissue:

  • Lateral disc protrusion — is to the left or right of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on nerve roots
  • Central disc protrusion — is toward the center of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on the spinal cord
  • Posterolateral disc protrusion — is to the back and left or back and right side of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on nerve roots
  • Paracentral disc protrusion — is near the center of the spinal canal, possibly pressing on the spinal cord and nerve roots

Disc protrusion symptoms can include any combination of the following if nerve tissue is being pinched:

  • Chronic, local neck and back pain
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Traveling pain radiating along the nerve’s path
  • Incontinence in extreme cases; this would require emergency treatment
  • Sciatica, if the disc compresses the sciatic nerve
  • The sensation of pins and needles or heat

Disc protrusion treatments

Upon diagnosis, disc protrusion treatments are usually conservative in nature. A doctor typically first recommends pain management methods such as low-impact exercise, a back brace, hot and cold compresses and pain medication. In the event that symptoms do not improve after weeks and months of conservative treatment, surgery may be recommended.

The team at Laser Spine Institute performs minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open spine surgery for patients experiencing pain resulting from disc protrusion. Our board-certified surgeons+ use a less than 1-inch incision and other muscle-sparing techniques to access the spine. The result is a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of complication compared to traditional open neck or back procedures.

To receive your no-cost MRI or CT scan review* to help you determine if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive outpatient procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today.