Torn disc risk factors, symptoms and treatments

A torn disc often develops after years of spinal compression and wear and tear due to the natural aging process of the spine.
This condition, as well as many other degenerative disc conditions, occurs as the strength of the spine slowly begins to decline. Over years of weight gain and repetitive motions, the discs in the spine begin to lose elasticity and shape. As the surrounding vertebrae press down on the discs with each movement, a disc may eventually tear under the constant pressure, creating a rip in the tough outer layer of the disc.

Because of the degenerative nature of this condition, there are certain lifestyle habits that increase a person’s risk of developing a torn disc. While not all torn discs can be prevented, it is important to know what habits may be making you more susceptible to this condition and what you can do to attempt to prevent or postpone it.

Risk factors for a torn disc

The natural aging process of the spine is one of the most common causes of a torn disc and is, obviously, one of the risk factors that is unavoidable. Though aging is inevitable, the following torn disc risk factors can be avoided:

  • Smoking — Smoking reduces oxygen levels in the blood and deprives intervertebral discs of essential nutrients.
  • Obesity — Carrying extra weight places undue pressure on the spine and can promote degeneration.
  • Overexertion — Participating in high-impact sports such as hockey, football and gymnastics can lead to premature degeneration of the intervertebral discs.

By making these lifestyle changes, you are making a choice to increase the health of your spine, thereby increasing your chances of preventing or postponing the development of degenerative spine conditions, including a torn disc.

Symptoms of a torn disc

The symptoms of a torn disc are actually the symptoms of nerve compression. A torn disc can often go unnoticed unless a piece of the torn disc extends into the spinal canal and presses against a nerve root. These symptoms often include muscle weakness, numbness, spasms and tingling and can be felt in the neck, back and/or extremities. These symptoms warrant a conversation with your physician about the possible cause of your nerve compression and the treatment option that best fits your needs.

Treatments for a torn disc

Many of the symptoms of a torn disc can be alleviated with physical therapy, pain medications, and hot and/or cold compresses.

If these conservative treatments fail to provide relief, a physician may recommend surgery. At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive discectomy surgery can alleviate nerve compression by removing a small piece of the torn disc. This is performed through a small, less than 1-inch incision using minimally invasive techniques — the same techniques that offer our patients a safer and effective surgery compared to traditional open back surgery. In some cases, our surgeons may recommend that the entire torn disc is removed and an artificial disc is inserted in its place to stabilize the spine. This is called a minimally invasive discectomy and stabilization procedure.

Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive outpatient procedures that can help you find relief from neck and back pain.