Overview of a spinal disc prolapse

A prolapsed disc can be a source of chronic pain and limited mobility that can affect every part of your life, from work to family time. Even once-simple tasks like going to the store or walking your dog become difficult to impossible. While you can have a disc prolapse without experiencing symptoms, if any disc material comes into contact with spinal nerves, then symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and weakness can occur both locally as well as radiate to the extremities.

Many people use the phrase prolapsed disc synonymously with terms such as herniated disc, slipped disc, and ruptured disc. However, a prolapsed disc technically refers to the second of four stages of disc rupture. These stages are:

  • Disc Degeneration. During this stage, the outer wall of a disc is weakened, but no visible external changes have occurred. It is less likely for nerve compression to occur at this stage.
  • Disc Prolapse. The outer wall of the disc begins to change shape and bulge out into the spinal canal. You may begin to feel symptoms at this stage if the damaged disc exerts pressure on your spinal cord or the nerve roots that extend from it.
  • Extrusion. In this stage, the gel-like inner core of your disc has broken through a tear in the disc’s outer wall, but the material is still attached to the disc.
  • Sequestration. In this final stage, the gel-like substance has left the disc and leaked into your spinal canal. It is much more likely that you will feel symptoms at this stage, as the inner gel contains proteins that inflame the nerves they come into contact with.

Causes of prolapsed discs

The spinal discs cushion the vertebrae, absorb the shock of everyday movement and allow the spine to bend and flex. The amount of pressure placed on the discs makes them vulnerable to prolapsing and other issues. There are many factors that can cause a disc to prolapse, including:

  • Age-related deterioration
  • Genetics
  • Repetitive stress due to occupation or lifestyle
  • Carrying extra weight
  • Smoking
  • Inactivity
  • Traumatic Injury

Diagnosis and treatment of a prolapsed disc

If you experience neck or back pain that doesn’t improve in a short period of time, it is important to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Upon diagnosis of a disc prolapse, your doctor will likely prescribe a course of conservative treatments to relieve the pain and help you regain any lost mobility. Typical treatment options include pain medication, physical therapy, light exercise and periods of rest. If you do not find relief with these methods after several weeks or months, surgery — including minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute — may be an option.

Our procedures are an alternative to traditional open back surgery, offering patients a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of complication through our state-of-the-art, muscle-sparing techniques.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive outpatient procedures.