Causes of a ruptured disc

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Ruptured disc causes include aging, disease and mild or severe spinal injury. Any of these situations can result in a weakening of a spinal disc to the point that the disc ruptures.

When they’re healthy, the spongy, round discs between your vertebrae help to absorb shock and pressure, allowing your spine to flex, rotate, twist and extend freely. Each spinal disc has a tough outer layer surrounding the gel-like substance at the core of the disc. Over time, the nucleus begins to lose its fluid content, which reduces its ability to act as a shock absorber for the movements and pressure we put on our neck and back each day.

Specific ruptured disc causes

If our spinal discs weaken, either due to aging, injury or a condition called degenerative disc disease, the outer wall of a disc can tear, pushing inner disc material into the spinal canal.

Here are some common factors which can contribute to a ruptured disc:

• General weakening from repetitive motion
• Sudden twisting movements
• Improper lifting techniques
• Sports-related injuries
• Motor vehicle accidents
• Sudden heavy, increased pressure to the lower back

Diagnosing and treating a ruptured disc

Many patients are diagnosed with a ruptured disc after experiencing symptoms related to nerve compression. A ruptured disc diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms can be similar to those of other issues such as facet disease, which is the deterioration of the facet joints that link the vertebrae. This is because if either condition causes displacement of anatomy leading to compression of the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root, painful symptoms can result.

If you’re experiencing any of the following ruptured disc symptoms, contact your health care provider:

  • Radiating pain from the neck or back to other areas of your body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain in the shoulders, arms, hands or chest
  • Pain in the lower back, hips, legs or feet
  • Sciatica
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities
  • Loss of bowel or bladder or control, which could indicate a medical emergency called cauda equina syndrome — please seek immediate medical attention

Your physician can diagnose your symptoms after he or she reviews your medical history, conducts a physical exam and sends you for an imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI. Once your physician has made a ruptured disc diagnosis, the recommended treatments are typically rest, medication, special exercises and physical therapy. For some people, a ruptured disc heals on its own as the body reabsorbs loose disc material in the spinal column.

In some cases, surgery is necessary to address ruptured disc symptoms that have not improved with a full course of conservative treatment options. If your ruptured disc requires surgery, consider the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. Our outpatient procedures are an alternative to traditional open spine surgery because we use a smaller, muscle-sparing incision to access the spine, resulting in a shorter recovery time^ for our patients.

Contact us today for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to see if you may be a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.