What is a Prolapsed Disc?




Between the vertebrae that make up the spinal column rest a series of shock-absorbing cartilage discs, which cushion the spine as it sustains the weight of the upper body. A prolapsed disc, commonly referred to as a “slipped” or “herniated” disc, occurs when the gel-like, inner nucleus of an intervertebral disc bulges or seeps through a weakened region in its hard outer casing. Discs may tear for a variety of reasons, including degenerative spine conditions and sudden injuries.

Usually a prolapsed disc does not become noticeable until displaced disc tissue begins to press against nearby muscles, ligaments and nerves. When this begins to happen, debilitating pain, weakness and other symptoms may arise. The symptoms of a prolapsed disc usually worsen without treatment and secondary spine-related complications may quickly develop.

Prolapsed discs are extremely common, with over 3 million diagnosed cases arising in the United States per year. Although any region of the spine may sustain a prolapsed disc, intervertebral discs in the lumbar (lower) spine are most susceptible to wear and tear. This is because the lower back bears the vast majority of everyday strain.

Prolapsed Disc Causes

As we grow older, our intervertebral discs begin to lose water content and betray years of stress and pressure. For this reason, the body’s natural aging process is by far the prevailing underlying cause of prolapsed discs. However, several factors may encourage or exacerbate prolapsed discs in both the young and the elderly, such as:

  • Repeated improper movements that place stress upon the spine, oftentimes due to sports, improper lifting and even sitting for too long
  • Sudden injuries or traumas, such as might occur during a high-impact sport, fall or car accident
  • Smoking or the excessive use of alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Malnutrition
  • A family history of herniated discs or other spine difficulties

If you believe that you may be at risk for experiencing a prolapsed disc, schedule a consultation today with Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®. By making minor adjustments in your daily routine, it is possible to avoid prolapsed discs or to diminish their severity.

Prolapsed Disc Symptoms

Individuals who have sudden, severe back pain, particularly within the lower back region, may be encountering a prolapsed disc. Typically, disc-related pain can be eased slightly by lying flat but will worsen if the back is unexpectedly moved by sneezing, coughing or other small motions.

Other common symptoms of a prolapsed disc are:

  • Radiating pain down the legs or into the calves or feet (when the sciatic nerve is being compressed)
  • Tingling or pins-and-needles sensations in the affected area and associated limbs
  • Numbness or weakness in the buttocks, legs or feet

Lower back pain that is accompanied by incontinence of the bladder or bowels or the inability to walk may indicate that the bottom of the spinal cord is being compressed. Call 911 immediately if you observe these symptoms, as they may be evidence of a medical emergency known as “cauda equina syndrome.”

Our Minimally Invasive Treatment Approach

Having a prolapsed disc can make even the most normal activities, such as working at a desk, feel strenuous and painful. However, you do not have to accept the symptoms of your prolapsed disc as a permanent part of your daily life. At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, our team of skilled spine specialists regularly helps patients achieve optimal healing through personalized attention and innovative treatments. On every step of the recovery process, we are committed to ensuring you have a positive experience.

During your initial visit, one of our spine experts will thoroughly examine your medical history, physical state and symptoms. If a prolapsed disc is suspected, a diagnostic imaging test like a C.T. scan, X-ray or MRI may be requested to confirm this diagnosis. Based upon the information gathered, we can recommend specific treatments designed to help you achieve optimal healing.

For most patients with a prolapsed disc, conservative, non-invasive treatments can provide relief and recovery. Some of the non-surgical methods of care commonly implemented to treat a prolapsed disc include:

Medication: Many pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medications can reduce the intensity of prolapsed disc symptoms and allow patients to begin physical therapy and other treatment modalities. Receiving localized injections can also benefit patients experiencing a prolapsed disc, as this mode of medicinal delivery allows physicians to target the exact location of an individual’s discomfort. With only one pain-relieving injection, some patients experience full pain relief for as long as 6 months, after which time many prolapsed discs have healed on their own.

Physical Therapy: Physical therapists can often manipulate muscles and joints into their proper location, which often minimizes the amount of pain felt by a patient as the result of their prolapsed disc. In addition, therapeutic exercises strengthen the muscles that support the back and improve flexibility, which in turn leads to less daily discomfort. Other types of physical therapy used to combat a prolapsed disc may involve:

  • Delivering powerful medicine to affected soft tissues using ultrasound technology
  • Electrically stimulating nerves to block pain
  • Using heating and cooling techniques to maximize the body’s natural healing and circulatory processes
  • Assistive devices to be used temporarily as the back heals
  • Traction

Usually, patients are able to recover from their prolapsed disc without requiring surgery. If symptoms do not diminish, however, minimally invasive surgery may become an option. At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, our surgeons use advanced techniques to remove portions of the prolapsed disc and stabilize the damaged region. When compared to traditional open prolapsed disc surgeries, minimally invasive procedures typically yield:

  • Shortened recovery times that allow patients to rapidly return to work, school and other responsibilities
  • Less post-operative pain
  • A reduced risk of scarring, blood loss or trauma to surrounding soft tissues

For more information about prolapsed disc treatments 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 feel better, faster, so that you can regain your quality of life!

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