While disc extrusion causes can vary, the end result is similar – the outer wall of an intervertebral disc, the annulus fibrosus, develops a tear and leaks its inner disc material, the nucleus pulposus, into the spinal canal. In and of itself, the tear is usually not painful. However, when the disc fluid impinges on nearby spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself, you may experience symptoms like tingling, numbness, weakness, and pain.? Causes of a disc extrusion, also called a herniated disc, can include traumatic injury, overexertion, illness, and obesity, but the most common cause is degeneration that accompanies the natural aging process.
The Degenerative Side of Disc Extrusion
As we age, years of wear and tear can take their toll on the spine. The cartilaginous intervertebral discs that separate adjacent vertebrae and absorb shock are especially susceptible to deterioration over time. The spinal anatomy can be affected by age in the following ways:
- Dehydration – the discs begin to lose water content and collagen. They become thinner, less elastic, and less able to absorb the shocks of the body’s day-to-day movements.
- Bulging disc – the disc can begin to bulge outside of its normal perimeter. This occurs because the nucleus pulposus is pressing on the weakened disc wall, and because the disc itself is under pressure from surrounding vertebrae.
- Disc protrusion – a more severe form of bulging disc, where the disc is still intact but has protruded even farther into the spinal canal. A protrusion may involve up to 180 degrees of the disc’s circumference.
- Disc extrusion – the disc wall finally develops a tear under such a large amount of pressure and the inner disc material extrudes into the spinal canal, possibly exerting pressure on nearby spinal nerves.
Conservative Treatment Options
The good news is that, despite the serious nature of its causes and the fact that aging cannot be prevented, a disc extrusion can sometimes heal on its own without surgery. Your doctor may recommend a regimen of conservative disc extrusion treatments like pain medication, hot-cold compresses, behavior modification, and gentle stretching. If weeks or months of these methods do not help your disc extrusion symptoms to abate, Laser Spine Institute may be able to help. Our outpatient, endoscopic procedures offer a welcome alternative to the risks and lengthy rehabilitation of open spine surgery. Contact us today for more information and a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan.