How aging can cause a ruptured disc

A ruptured disc, also known as a herniated disc, occurs when the inner gel-like material of a spinal disc pushes through a tear in the outer wall and into the spinal canal. People past the age of 40 become increasingly vulnerable to this condition due to age-related related changes that happen in the spine. Discs lose water content with age and the outer wall becomes brittle, making them less able to withstand the pressure being placed on them by everyday weight and movement.

While getting older isn’t preventable, learning more about how this condition develops and the full range of treatment options available can be beneficial if a ruptured disc is affecting your life. Becoming a more informed patient can give you the best chance of finding treatment that offers the pain relief you deserve.

Stages that lead to a ruptured disc

Research has shown that deterioration of the spinal anatomy actually begins in the second decade of life. By the time we reach middle age, many of us have already experienced one or more of the stages of disc degeneration that can lead to a ruptured disc. These stages typically include:

  • Degeneration. Discs begin to dry out and lose protein content, diminishing their ability to provide a cushion between vertebrae; the outer wall becomes brittle and the disc begins to lose height.
  • Prolapse. Eventually, a portion of the gel-like substance at the center of the disc can press outward and causes a protrusion through the outer layer.
  • Extrusion. A tear develops in the outer layer, causing disc matter to be pushed out into the spinal canal. This is the stage that would be diagnosed as a ruptured disc.
  • Sequestration. The herniated disc material has broken free from the disc and is loose within the spinal canal.

Symptoms and pain management

A ruptured disc doesn’t always cause symptoms. Pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness generally occur as a result of nerve compression. These symptoms normally can be managed through a course of treatment recommended by your doctor that can include pain medication, physical therapy and lifestyle changes. However, if chronic symptoms persist after fully attempting nonsurgical treatment, surgery might become an option.

If this is true for you, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery can help you find relief from neck or back pain. These procedures are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery, leading to less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time for our patients.^

We offer a no-cost MRI review* to help you find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.