What is a ruptured disc and what should I do if I have one?

Ruptured Disc

A ruptured disc, also known as a herniated disc, is a common condition that occurs when one of the discs in the spine develops a crack in its hard outer wall, allowing the jellylike inner core to leak out into the spinal canal. This herniated disc material can press against the nerve roots that branch off the spinal cord or even the spinal cord itself. This compression can lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms such as pain, tingling and muscle weakness.

Ruptured discs can develop anywhere in the spine. Most develop in the lumbar (lower) spine, although the cervical (upper) area is also a common location for a ruptured disc. You can often identify the area of the ruptured disc based on where your symptoms have developed. For example, symptoms of a cervical ruptured disc will often appear in the neck, head, shoulder, arm and/or hand.

If you notice the development of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor to discuss the treatment options available to you. To prepare for your appointment, take some time to research what a ruptured disc is and what can cause this condition to develop. This knowledge will help you have an active role in discussing your treatment options and choosing the right method for your needs.

What causes a ruptured disc?

In most cases, a ruptured disc develops as a result of regular, age-related wear and tear. Discs are made of soft but strong connective tissues and act as shock absorbers for the various pressures placed on the neck and back each and every day. Throughout a person’s lifetime, these discs gradually lose the elasticity and water content that helps keep them flexible and rips can develop in the outer wall (annulus fibrosus) as a result. A tear in the outer layer is called a torn disc, slipped disc or herniated disc.

Less commonly, a disc rupture can also be caused by a sudden traumatic injury such as a car crash. People whose jobs involve prolonged exposure to vibration or regular lifting of heavy items are also prone to disc ruptures.

Common symptoms

Symptoms of a ruptured disc include:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling
  • Loss of movement
  • Sharp pain that radiates toward the extremities

Treatment options for a ruptured disc

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your physician. He or she will be able to determine the cause of the pain and the best possible treatments. When diagnosing a ruptured disc, your health care provider likely will perform a physical exam and may order an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to confirm the existence of the condition. Conservative treatment options could include over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, physical therapy and modified activity.

Some patients may need more than conservative treatments to relieve their symptoms and allow them to live life to the fullest. Other options are available for pain relief, including the state-of-the-art, minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. An alternative to open back surgery, our outpatient procedures are designed to remove ruptured disc material and help patients find relief from neck and back pain. Contact us today for more information and to request a no-cost review of your recent MRI* scan to find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.