Spinal disc prolapse

By Michael Perry, M.D.

A spinal disc prolapse is a condition where the gel-like nucleus of a spinal disc pushes through a tear in the harder outer layer. This can occur anywhere along the spine, but is common in the lower back, where the lumbar (lower) vertebrae bear much of the body’s weight and support rigorous activities like heavy lifting, walking and running.

Symptoms related to a spinal disc prolapse can be life altering, making it difficult to engage in everyday activities. Something as simple as a trip to the grocery store or working in the yard can become a painful experience due to the pain and limited movement that can occur. If your life is being affected by this condition, learning more about how it occurs and how to treat it can be an important step in getting back to the healthy, active lifestyle you’ve been missing.

Causes and symptoms of a spinal disc prolapse

Spinal disc prolapse can be caused by a range of factors, including injury and the natural aging process. With age, the spinal discs can lose water content. When a disc is less hydrated, it loses elasticity and becomes brittle. The vertebrae above and below compress the disc, which can cause the gel-like center to place pressure on the tough, fibrous disc wall. As that pressure builds, the integrity of the disc wall is compromised and the nucleus begins to force its way out through the weakest point in the wall — leading to spinal disc prolapse.

Symptoms from a prolapsed disc are typically the result of disc material coming into contact with a spinal nerve. Compression of a nerve root or the spinal cord by a damaged disc can cause:

  • Localized pain at or near the site of prolapse
  • Pain in regions of the body where the pinched nerve travels
  • Numbness or tingling in associated regions of the body
  • Muscle weakness in the arms or legs


For many patients, the symptoms associated with spinal disc prolapse can be treated with conservative options like physical therapy, pain medications, exercise or rest. If weeks or months of this type of treatment are not able to relieve pain and allow for a return to normal activity, surgery can become an option.

If you are concerned about the risks and difficulties associated with traditional open spine surgery, Laser Spine Institute offers an alternative. Our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery uses a less than 1-inch incision and other muscle-sparing techniques to decompress affected nerves. This helps our patients avoid hospital-associated costs and experience a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of infection compared to traditional open spine surgery.

To learn more, contact Laser Spine Institute for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.