A collapsed disc is the loss of height of an intervertebral disc, typically as a result of the wear and tear that comes with age. A disc loses height when the annulus fibrosus (outer wall) becomes weak with aging. Movement also places stress on the outer disc wall, which flexes and stretches to accommodate bending, turning, and twisting in the neck and lower back. Because the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine are more flexible than the thoracic (middle back) region, the most common locations of a collapsed disc are within the seven vertebral segments of the neck and the five vertebral segments of the lower back.
Location of symptoms depends on region of compression
A collapsed disc is one of several types of degenerative spine conditions involving the deterioration of the intervertebral discs. The terms collapsed disc, herniated disc, bulging disc, and prolapsed disc all are commonly used interchangeably, but actually are slightly different conditions. What they have in common is a weakening of the outer wall, which is composed of several fibro-elastic layers which help the disc perform its function as a cushion between vertebrae.
A collapsed disc or other degenerative disc condition typically remains asymptomatic unless a portion of the disc encroaches upon an adjacent nerve root or the spinal cord itself. If this happens, the location of the pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness experienced depends on the site of the nerve compression:
- Cervical – neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers
- Thoracic – arms, chest, abdomen, pelvis
- Lumbar – lower back, buttocks, legs, ankles, feet, toes
Treatment options for collapsed disc symptoms
Regardless of the location of the symptoms, pain and other discomfort associated with a collapsed disc normally can be managed conservatively using pain medication, physical therapy, exercise, and/or epidural injections. However, if symptoms persist after several weeks of conservative treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the benefits of a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using state-of-the-art endoscopic technology.