Ruptured disc: frequently asked questions

Being diagnosed with a ruptured disc as the source of your symptoms can bring many questions with it. To help you become a more educated patient who is better able to work with your doctor to find the relief you deserve, Laser Spine Institute has put together this guide to questions our patients frequently ask about this condition.

Q. What is a ruptured disc?

A. A ruptured disc is a condition in which one of the rubbery discs that support and cushion the spinal column develops a tear that causes inner disc material to be pushed through it. Tearing of the outer layer (annulus fibrosus) of a spinal disc can allow the inner core (nucleus pulposus) to be pushed out into the spinal column. In addition to localized pain, a ruptured disc can also lead to nerve root or spinal cord compression, which causes further symptoms.

Q. What causes a ruptured disc?

A. The primary underlying cause of this condition is the natural aging process that causes the discs to dry out and lose elasticity, making them more likely to tear and rupture. Anything which causes undue stress upon the spine can also contribute to a ruptured disc. Because of this, people who work jobs that place high stress upon the spine are at a particularly high risk of developing a ruptured disc. Also, people who are sitting down on a regular basis, such as office workers, have an increased risk because sitting places three times more stress upon the lower spine compared to standing.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. The most common symptom of a ruptured disc is chronic pain. This is especially true if the annular wall has torn open and allowed the contents of the nucleus pulposus to leak out, causing inflammation in the nearby tissues exposed to core disc material. A ruptured disc can also compress nerve roots and the spinal cord, leading to other symptoms such as pain, tingling and numbness in the upper or lower extremities.

Q. What are some treatment options?

A. Although there are several at-home methods for treating a ruptured disc, you need to follow the guidance of your doctor to ensure that the condition is diagnosed and treated properly. Depending on your physical ability and unique situation, your doctor may recommend trying out different postures that place less stress upon the spine, and he or she may also suggest exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the spine. Medication, physical therapy, hot and cold compression, therapeutic massage and epidural steroid injections are also commonly recommended.

Q. Will I need surgery?

A. Spine surgery to treat a ruptured disc is usually considered if a full course of conservative treatment, usually lasting weeks or months, does not bring the relief necessary to comfortably engage in the activities of everyday life. Many patients who are recommended surgery are anxious about the risks and difficulties involved with traditional open neck or back procedures, including hospitalization, risk of complication and the need for a long recovery period.

To learn more about minimally invasive spine surgery as a safer and effective alternative^ to traditional open spine procedures, contact the team at Laser Spine Institute. Our outpatient procedures are performed using muscle-sparing techniques and offer less risk of complication compared to traditional open spine surgery.

We are happy to offer a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to help you determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.