Nucleus pulposus overview

A spinal disc contains two parts: the nucleus pulposus, the gel-like interior portion of the disc and the annulus fibrosus, the protective outer layer. While the annulus fibrosus is composed of strong collagen fibers that make it extremely durable, the nucleus pulposus is constructed of loose fibers that allow it to move within the disc. Serving as a cushion, the nucleus absorbs shock from surrounding vertebrae, enabling the spine to smoothly flex and extend.

How discs deteriorate

As we age, years of use can take their toll on the spine, creating problems for our spinal discs. The nucleus pulposus loses hydration over time, and becomes less flexible, causing it to lose its shape. Age-related deterioration of the discs is usually diagnosed by physicians as degenerative disc disease. This can leave a vertebra vulnerable to friction from its neighboring vertebrae, and can lead to potentially painful conditions including:

  • Bone spurs — Also called osteophytes, bone spurs are overgrowths that form around the edge of a vertebra, inhibiting movement.
  • Bulging discs — This occurs when a portion of the nucleus pulposus protrudes outward but has not broken free from the annulus fibrosus.
  • Herniated discs — This happens when a disc tears or ruptures, expelling nucleus pulposus material out into the spinal column.

These conditions can cause similar symptoms if they compress nerve roots or the spinal cord, including pain, numbness, weakness and burning sensations in the neck, back and extremities. The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to debilitating pain, usually depending on the amount of disc material placing pressure on nerve tissue.

Treatment options

If you’ve been diagnosed with a condition affecting your discs, the good news is that there are a number of treatment options available to you. In many cases, symptoms can be relieved with a few weeks or months of conservative therapy, such as bed rest, exercise and over-the-counter medication.

For those who experience chronic pain, even after conservative treatment, a minimally invasive spine surgery from Laser Spine Institute may be the best option. These procedures are an alternative to the hospitalization and long recovery required of traditional open back surgery. Our surgeons use small incisions to access the spine and decompress nerves, leading to less scarring and a shorter recovery time.^

To learn more about our advanced outpatient procedures to find out if you may be a candidate, contact Laser Spine Institute today for your no-cost MRI review.*