What is a Torn Disc?

Located between the individual vertebrae that make up the spinal column are intervertebral discs that share a common purpose of providing cushioning and shock-absorbing protection to the spine. These cartilage discs support the stability of the spine and absorb wear and tear as the vertebral column moves and twists. Formed by a firm outer casing known as the “annulus” and a soft, gelatinous inner material referred to as the “nucleus,” intervertebral discs bear much of the stress and strain that is placed upon the spine by everyday life. Because of this, intervertebral discs are highly susceptible to disease and injury, especially as they age and lose water content.

A torn disc, also sometimes referred to as a “slipped,” “ruptured,” or “herniated” disc, occurs when a tear or weakness in the disc’s outer layer allows the inner layer to leak into the spinal canal. This displaced disc tissue can place pressure on area nerves, which compresses them and causes pain, discomfort and other debilitating complications. Torn discs are extremely common and are typically very treatable. Obtaining an accurate and prompt diagnosis is important because without treatment, torn discs may lead to secondary complications and worsening nerve damage.


By far the most prominent cause of torn discs is aging and the general wear and tear incurred by the spine and associated with growing older. As the years pass, intervertebral discs become less elastic and begin to respond negatively to pressure, which makes them more likely to suffer damage. Besides age, several factors may also cause or worsen torn discs, including:

  • Degenerative disc disease and related conditions
  • Sudden injuries, such as might occur during a high-impact sport, fall or motor vehicle accident
  • Frequent, improper movements or lifting, commonly seen in professionals whose jobs require physical labor, driving long distances or even sedentary professions which require sitting at a desk most of the day
  • Twisting or straining the back
  • Genetics, congenital spine abnormalities or a family history of spine problems
  • Obesity or carrying excess weight, which place significant additional strain upon the spine
  • Smoking and/or the abuse of alcohol
  • Malnutrition
  • Lack of exercise and regular activity

There are many preventative methods linked to long-term disc health, such as maintaining a healthy weight, stretching frequently and eliminating unnecessary risk factors like cigarettes. If you believe you may be at risk of sustaining a torn disc, contact our spine specialists today to learn how to best care for your spine. Remember, it is the only one you have!


Patient symptoms can differ in severity and are dependent on where the torn disc is located within the spine. Once a torn disc places pressure on a nerve, common complaints include:

  • Dull, achy pain or sharp, intense pain
  • Sciatica
  • Muscle cramping and spasms
  • Pain that radiates through the shoulders and arms or down the legs
  • Tingling and pins-and-needles sensations through the arms and hands or down the legs
  • Weakness in the affected area and associated limbs
  • Stiffness, tightness and a limited range of motion
  • The inability to participate in normal daily routines without experiencing discomfort

Sometimes torn discs cause delayed symptoms or even no symptoms at all. Because the hallmark symptoms of a torn disc are also associated with many other spine-related complications, such as spinal stenosis and tumors, it is important to receive a professional diagnosis as soon as possible to eliminate any life-threatening conditions.

Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one begin to experience fever, incontinence of the bladder or bowels or immobility in tandem with back pain. These symptoms may be linked to cauda equina syndrome, a dangerous medical emergency.

Our Minimally Invasive Treatment Approach

As the premier spine clinic in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, the physicians and surgeons at Minimally Invasive SpineCARE® are experts when it comes to treating torn discs. Through value-based, patient-centric care, personalized attention and advanced treatments, we are dedicated to helping individuals suffering from spinal problems achieve optimal healing and a return to the quality of life that they deserve.

The majority of torn discs resolve on their own. For this reason, we generally suggest undergoing conservative, non-surgical treatments to address this condition and its side effects before, in rare cases, recommending an operation. Studies show that the following non-invasive methods of care can be highly effective in treating torn discs:

Medication: Several pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medications can alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with a torn disc. Besides the standard oral and topical medications, specialized medications may be delivered using ultrasound technology, localized injections or gentle electrical stimulation. These methods can often provide nearly immediate relief and sometimes alleviate symptoms for as long as 6 months at a time. When used temporarily, medication can allow a patient to experience little pain as their torn disc heals on its own.

Physical Therapy: By strengthening the abdominal muscles (which support the spine) and improving flexibility, it is possible to reduce the amount of pressure placed upon vertebrae, discs and nerves. Physical therapists guide the body through specialized movements to achieve this goal.

Heating and Cooling Treatments: Heating and cooling modalities maximize the body’s natural healing processes by providing nutrients to affected areas and reducing swelling.

Additional Approaches: Short-term bracing, the use of traction or spinal decompression therapy can all help patients recover from a torn disc, depending on the location and severity of the injury.

If the tear in the disc is severe or conservative treatments do not provide the desired amount of relief, surgical intervention may be discussed. At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, we offer a number of minimally invasive laparoscopic surgeries to repair ruptured disc walls or replace discs entirely with a prosthetic alternative. Minimally invasive surgeries use tiny incisions to yield many benefits, especially when compared to traditional open surgeries. When a patient undergoes minimally invasive surgery, they can generally expect:

  • A shortened recovery time
  • Minimal damage to surrounding muscles and soft tissues
  • Less post-operative pain
  • A reduced risk of scarring or blood loss

To learn if you are a viable candidate for minimally invasive surgery or to learn more about torn discs, please contact us directly by calling 972-255-5588 or by filling out the form on this page. Relief is possible and we are committed to helping you feel better, faster!

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