What is a disc protrusion?

A disc protrusion is the result of two bones of the spine (vertebrae) compressing on a weakened intervertebral disc. The disc then protrudes horizontally past the disc’s normal anatomic limits. The condition, also known as a bulging disc, is commonly diagnosed in people older than 35. However, anyone older than 20 years old may have this condition. Most will never experience any symptoms from disc protrusion, though.

The discs of cartilage in the spine consist of a gel-like center (nucleus pulposus) and a tough external ring of fibro-elastic tissue (annulus fibrosus). Discs are normally well-hydrated. This allows them to be pliable and absorb stresses in the spine, in turn giving flexibility to the spine. With aging, discs dehydrate, or lose water. This shrinks the disc. The protein elastin within the annulus fibrosus also changes with aging, reducing the disc wall’s resilience and strength. When pressure from the vertebrae above and below is exerted on the disc, the nucleus pulposus pushes outward against the disc wall. A bulge, or disc protrusion, may develop. A herniated disc occurs if the outermost wall of the disc tears or cracks, and the nucleus pulposus extrudes into the spinal canal.

What symptoms will I experience?

A disc protrusion does not cause symptoms unless it pressures the spinal cord or one of the spinal nerve roots. When a nerve is compressed pain develops at the site and may radiate further. If the impingement is located in the lumbar (lower back) region, feelings of pain, burning, numbness, muscle spasms, weakness and tingling may radiate into the buttocks, thighs, calves or even the feet. Should the bulge occur in the neck, or cervical region, the same symptoms could manifest in the shoulders, arms and hands.


Whether you have been diagnosed with a disc protrusion, a herniated disc or another neck or back condition, the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute may help you. Our orthopedic surgeons are trained in advanced techniques, and our procedures are an effective alternative to traditional open back surgery. Contact us today for your MRI or CT scan review, and to receive more information.