Ruptured Disc

The definition and anatomy of a ruptured disc

A ruptured disc is also known as a herniated disc or a prolapsed disc. Intervertebral discs are composed of two parts, a fibrous outer ring known as the annulus fibrosus and an inner gelatinous core known as the nucleus pulposus. As a person ages, the fibrosus outer ring deteriorates and weakens. Pressure from the gelatinous core may cause the ring to bulge outward, resulting in a bulging disc. If the fibrous ring develops a tear, the gelatinous core may extrude through the tear, resulting in a ruptured or herniated disc. Symptoms for most ruptured discs begin with conservative measures. Most symptoms abate with time and conservative therapy. If symptoms are severe and/or do not resolve with conservative treatment, consult your physician for a more complete medical review.

Source of symptoms

Intervertebral discs serve to cushion the spine. They act as shock absorbers between the rigid boney vertebrae. Age, misuse and trauma are the most common causes of ruptured discs. When the core gelatinous material extrudes from the disc as discussed above, inflammation arises, causing swelling of both the disc and any near adjacent nerve. The extruded portion may also impinge upon the spinal nerves as they exit the vertebral column. This results in:

  • Chronic neck or back pain
  • Pain that radiates along the inflamed nerve
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished reflexes


Treatment for a ruptured disc is usually first attempted conservatively. The goal of treatment is to reduce strain on the spine preventing further injury and to alleviate symptoms while the healing process takes place. Some of the most common non-surgical treatments available include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Stretching exercises
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Pain medication or injections
  • Heat or cold therapy
  • Limited rest

If you have been diagnosed with a ruptured disc, it is important to remember that you have options. Visit your physician to determine the conservative course that is best for you. Should your pain persist through several weeks of conservative treatment and surgery is recommended, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our innovative, minimally invasive spine procedures that are more effective alternatives to traditional open neck and back surgeries.