Types of torn discs

Learn torn disc types and symptoms from the spine care experts at Laser Spine Institute.

A torn disc in the spine is a potentially painful condition that can have a severe effect on a patient’s life. If this condition leads to narrowing in the spinal canal and nerve compression, the symptoms can cause pain and limited movement that makes everyday tasks difficult. Learning more about the causes of this condition and the types of torn discs can give you a better understanding of your pain — and this knowledge can help you find the right treatment if you are living with neck or back pain.

The spinal discs are positioned between the vertebrae in the spinal column to absorb shock and allow for basic movement. In a healthy spinal disc, a fibrous outer layer protects and contains a soft, inner layer. However, age and injury can weaken the discs and make it possible for spine conditions like bulging, herniated and torn discs to develop.

In a torn disc, the outer layer has ripped or torn, allowing the inner layer to leak out, potentially affecting spinal nerves. Although the condition is the same regardless of location, the symptoms depend on where it has occurred in the spine. For this reason, the types of torn discs are typically categorized according to their location in the spine.

Types of torn discs

Consider the three spinal regions where torn discs can be found:

  • Cervical Spine. The upper region of the spine includes vertebrae C1 to C7 that run from the base of the skull to the top of the rib cage. Symptoms of a torn disc in this area would manifest in the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Thoracic Spine. The thoracic section of the spine includes vertebrae T1 to T12. These vertebrae are fixed to the ribcage and provide more support than other sections of the spine, making a torn disc in this area less likely. Symptoms of a thoracic torn disc would present themselves in the mid-back, chest, ribs and arms.
  • Lumbar Spine. The lumbar region of the spine includes the L1 to L5 vertebrae. Many torn discs occur in this area of the spine because it bears so much weight while remaining flexible enough for movement. Symptoms of a lumbar torn disc would appear in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet.

Symptoms of the types of torn discs

Although the area in which symptoms are experienced can vary, the types of symptoms experienced are usually similar and include:

  • Pain, which may be a sharp or burning pain that travels to other areas of the body
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of movement
  • Muscle spasms or muscle cramping

After diagnosing a torn disc as the cause of these symptoms, doctors will often prescribe an initial course of conservative treatments. Many patients find enough relief with rest, hot or cold compression, medication and physical therapy to be able to return to their high quality of life. Surgery is usually considered if weeks or months of treatment goes by without an improvement in symptoms.

Laser Spine Institute performs minimally invasive spine surgery using a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine and treat conditions like a torn disc. Because of our muscle-sparing incision, our patients can experience an outpatient procedure with a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication than a traditional open spine procedure.

Contact our dedicated team today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine procedures.