Spinal disc overview

The spine is a stack of bones, called vertebrae, with the spinal discs resting between them and acting as shock absorbers. All the parts of the spine — including vertebrae, discs and joints — work together to protect the spinal cord while supporting the upper body and head. Spinal discs are critical to basic bending and twisting that allows for upper body movement.

There are 23 discs in the spine, labeled according to their position in between the vertebrae of the cervical (upper), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) regions of the spine. The sacrum and coccyx regions at the very bottom of the spine are naturally fused and do not have discs. A spinal disc has two layers: the outermost layer (annulus fibrosus) and an inner, jellylike substance (nucleus pulposus).

Conditions affecting the spinal discs

As we get older, the spinal discs tend to wear out due to a combination of an age-related reduction in blood flow and years of everyday movement. This cumulative deterioration is often diagnosed as degenerative disc disease. Discs also can be injured in a variety of ways, for example, during an auto accident or while participating in a sport.

A weakened spinal disc may rupture, and the inner fluid may extrude into the spinal canal resulting in a herniated disc. Or, a spinal disc could form a contained bubble that takes up space in the spinal canal — this is a bulging disc. If neural passageways in the spinal column become constricted, exiting nerve roots or the spinal cord itself can become compressed, resulting in symptoms including burning pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness in the extremities.

Treatment options

If your physician diagnoses you with a condition involving a spinal disc, he or she may suggest a plan of conventional treatment options to relieve your pain and give the disc a chance to heal on its own. If this plan proves ineffective, usually after weeks or months of attempting a full range of methods, traditional open spinal surgery may be suggested. Types of spinal surgeries include:

  • Discectomy — the damaged disc is completely or partially removed, releasing neural pressure
  • Foraminotomy — the foramina are widened, decompressing affected nerves
  • Laminotomy — the lamina, or thin, bony plate on the vertebral arch, is all or partially removed to increase space in the spinal canal

These traditional open back surgeries typically involve a large incision site and an overnight hospital stay. In some cases, a full recovery could take up to a year or more. If you are interested in relieving your back pain due to spinal disc damage, but you feel that traditional surgeries may not be for you, Laser Spine Institute can offer an alternative.

Minimally invasive, outpatient surgery at Laser Spine Institute has helped more than 75,000 people find relief from neck and back pain. With these procedures, the spine is accessed with a smaller, muscle-sparing incision that reduces recovery time and scarring^ for our patients.

Contact us today for your no-cost MRI review* to see if you are a potential candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute.