Chemonucleolysis is a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that may be recommended for patients who experience painful symptoms as a result of a degenerative disc condition in the spine. Once the affected vertebral disc is identified, the medical professional inserts a needle into the inner gel-like disc material – the nucleus pulposus – and introduces an enzyme called chymopapain, which is derived from papaya. This enzyme is expected to decrease the swelling and provide meaningful pain relief, although concerns over its effectiveness and potential for allergic reactions are troublesome.

Bulging disc

One of the most common sources of chronic back pain is the presence of a degenerative disc condition, which is most often caused by injury or the natural aging process. When one of the discs becomes “bulged” – that is to say it extrudes beyond its normal parameters in the disc space – pain can follow. However, it is important to understand that a bulging disc itself is not what causes these symptoms; rather, nerve compression in the spinal column as a result of the bulging disc is what causes pain.

The basic idea of chemonucleolysis is to reduce this problematic disc swelling without removing the disc through back surgery. During this technique, the chymopapain is carefully introduced into the disc and, in theory, the nucleus pulposus should break down, alleviating the disc swelling.


While chemonucleolysis is appealing because of its relatively minimal invasiveness, this treatment isn’t widely accepted because questions remain over the treatment’s effectiveness, particularly in the long term. Furthermore, some patients have exhibited potentially serious allergic reactions to papaya, further limiting the treatment’s applicability.

At Laser Spine Institute, we treat bulging discs with other minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that are proven effective and don’t carry the risks that are associated with chemonucleolysis. To learn more, contact Laser Spine Institute today.