What is a Collapsed Disc

The spine is central to human life and one of the most important structures of the body. Made up of precisely-stacked vertebral bones, the spine or “backbone” houses the spinal cord, supports the weight of the upper body and facilitates our movement. Intervertebral discs formed out of cartilage and fibers can be found between most of the spine’s vertebrae. These discs absorb shock and strain while providing necessary cushioning for the spine.

Intervertebral discs have a hard outer casing and a gel-like, liquefied nucleus. The external and internal parts of a disc are mostly comprised of the same materials (water, collagen and proteoglycans), though the amount of fluid is higher in the soft part of the disc than the protective exterior.

These discs are highly susceptible to damage, especially as an individual ages and natural wear and tear placed on the body throughout the years becomes more pronounced. The older a man or a woman gets, the less hydrated their intervertebral discs are. Disc-related difficulties are some of the most common underlying causes of back pain and related discomforts.

A “collapsed disc” is an intervertebral disc that has shrunk. Its height or mass has been greatly reduced, often due to dehydration, and one or more regions of the disc may become significantly decayed. Usually a shrunken disc does not become noticeable until it begins to affect other areas of the spine. Collapsed discs may aggravate the spinal cord or nearby nerves and result in pain and discomfort.

Frequently, collapsed discs occur in the neck (known as the cervical area) or lower (referred to as the lumbar area) regions of the spine. As we go about our daily activities, these areas of the backbone bear a considerable amount of strain while working to support the body’s weight and each of our movements.

Collapsed Disc Causes

Usually discs shrink because their fibrous outer wall has deteriorated drastically. The majority of collapsed discs are caused by the body’s natural aging processes. As we age, our vertebrae and intervertebral discs naturally begin to degenerate. Several determinants besides age, however, can cause or exacerbate a collapsed disc. These factors include:

  • Obesity or significant excess body weight
  • Sudden injury or high-impact trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident
  • Participation in certain sports, like football or gymnastics
  • A fall, even from a short height
  • Improperly lifting heavy objects
  • Smoking
  • An unbalanced diet
  • Making repeated strenuous movements

If you believe you are at risk for a collapsed disc or other spine-related complications, speak with your doctor about how to maintain life-long spine health. By participating in moderate exercise and making other lifestyle changes, you may be able to lower your chances of sustaining a collapsed disc now or later in life.

Collapsed Disc Symptoms

Most patients do not suspect they have a collapsed disc until the disc begins to compress nearby tissues and disrupt the spinal column’s stability. Some of the symptoms associated with a collapsed disc are:

  • Chronic nerve pain, due to the collapsed disc placing pressure on nearby nerves
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling or pins-and-needles sensations in the affected area and limbs
  • Numbness throughout the affected area and limbs
  • Bone spurs

A collapsed disc may lead to herniated or bulging discs, as well as damage to the spinal cord. If you or a loved one begins to evince serious symptoms such as fever, bleeding or incontinence of the bladder or bowels, call 911 immediately as these may be signs of a medical emergency.

Our Minimally Invasive Treatment Approach

At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, our team of innovative spine specialists regularly helps patients diagnose and address collapsed discs and related spinal conditions. By providing personalized, compassionate care, we strive to ensure that patients return healed to their everyday lives and do not develop secondary conditions as a result of untimely treatment.

During your initial visit, one of our Board-certified surgeons will carefully analyze your physical state and medical history. If your symptoms seem to suggest a collapsed disc, an X-ray, MRI or CT scan may be requested to attain a definitive diagnosis. Based upon this information, we can recommend specific treatments or procedures to best address your collapsed disc(s).

Whenever possible, we generally encourage a combination of conservative treatments for a collapsed disc before considering surgical options. The following non-invasive methods of care can often be extremely effective when combating the symptoms of a collapsed disc:

Exercise and Physical Therapy: Contrary to popular belief, continued bed rest does not usually help patients who are experiencing spine-related complications. Through moderate exercise, it is possible to strengthen the muscles around the spine, lose weight and improve your flexibility. All of these factors can reduce the amount of strain placed upon the spine and reduce the negative effects of your collapsed disc. In addition, professional massage or chiropractic techniques may be other potential options to bring restoration to the body.

Medication: A variety of anti-inflammatory over-the-counter or prescription medicines may help reduce the irritation caused by a collapsed disc. In severe cases, localized cortisone injections often provide a safe and less-invasive solution to collapsed disc-related pains.

If conservative methods of treatment do not provide satisfactory relief, surgical intervention may be necessary to maintain or improve your quality of life. The team of surgeons at Minimally Invasive SpineCARE® specializes in minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures. These advanced techniques generally yield:

  • Shortened recovery times that allow patients to return to work and other daily activities more quickly than if they had undergone a traditional procedure
  • Less post-operative pain
  • A reduced risk of scarring
  • Reduced blood loss during surgery
  • Minimal trauma to surrounding tissues
  • Fewer potential complications

Because our specialists offer expertise in both minimally invasive surgeries and open operations, we are able to perform the type of procedure that best fits your individual needs. If a patient is obese or has significant adhesions (generally referred to as scar tissue) from a previous surgery, a minimally invasive procedure may not be an option. During surgery, the physician will usually remove the damaged portion of the disc as well as any nearby bone spurs. An artificial disc or “spacer” may then be inserted to further strengthen and support the spine.

To learn more about collapsed discs or Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, please do not hesitate to get in touch by calling us directly at 972-255-5588 or by filling out the form on this page. We look forward to helping you regain your quality of life so that you can get back to the things you love the most!

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