What causes a herniated disc?

A herniated disc can have a wide range of causes, including injury, posture, obesity and especially natural degeneration. With age, the spinal discs begin to lose water content and become brittle, making them less able to cushion the vertebrae and absorb shock. This can cause tears to develop in a disc’s outer wall, pushing the gel-like inner disc material out into the spinal canal. While not always painful, a disc herniation can put pressure on surrounding spinal nerves, leading to debilitating symptoms.

At Laser Spine Institute we believe in patient education as an important step in the treatment process. If symptoms from a herniated disc are affecting you, the following information about what causes this condition to develop is intended to help you in your search for relief and a return to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Stages of a herniated disc

Regardless of the cause, herniated discs develop because of pressure. Because the spine helps to keep the torso and head upright while also being flexible, an enormous amount of stress is placed on the discs. Factors like poor posture and being overweight add to the pressure, while aging makes them less able to absorb this pressure. These forces cause degenerative disc conditions like herniation to occur gradually, except in cases of traumatic injury. Here are the typical stages for a degenerative herniated disc:

  • Degeneration — the disc loses water and protein content and begins to lose elasticity over time
  • Prolapse — a portion of the gel-like substance at the center of the disc presses outward and causes a protrusion to appear along the tough, fibrous outer layer
  • Extrusion — uneven pressure can cause cracks or tears to develop, causing disc matter to be pushed into the spinal canal
  • Sequestration — herniated disc material can completely separate from the body of the disc and disrupt spinal nerves

Treatment for a herniated disc

If nerve compression associated with a herniated disc begins to cause chronic pain or other symptoms, the first step usually is conservative treatment as recommended by your doctor. This can include pain medication, exercise, posture improvement, weight management and epidural steroid injections. However, if chronic symptoms persist after several weeks of conservative treatment, surgery might be recommended.

If you have been recommended for a traditional open neck or back surgery, but have concerns about the prospect of the hospitalization and long recovery involved, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery offers an outpatient experience and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional procedures.

To learn more, reach out to our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

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