If you or a loved one is suffering from a torn disc (also sometimes referred to as a ruptured or herniated disc), you’re probably familiar with the pain and discomfort that can be associated with this spinal condition. Though the symptoms may be all too familiar, you may not have a clear understanding of what causes this condition and may still be asking yourself, “What is a torn disc anyway?”
The Anatomy of an Intervertebral Disc
In order to understand the cause of a torn intervertebral disc, you first need to become familiar with the disc’s anatomy. Discs are tiny shock absorbers that serve to support the bony structure of the back (the vertebrae). Located in between the stacked vertebrae, discs are composed of two parts: the annulus fibrosus (the tough exterior) and the nucleus pulposus (the jellylike interior). Both components are susceptible to a number of degenerative changes as a person ages. The cartilaginous exterior of a disc can become less elastic while the soft interior can lose water content. These changes can cause a disc to provide less cushioning and can make them prone to a great deal of damage.
Torn Discs and Aging
As we age and our discs begin to degenerate, our risk for developing a torn disc increases. A torn disc occurs when the annulus fibrosus breaks open because of lost elasticity, coupled with the everyday weight and pressure that are placed on our vertebrae. A disc tear may not painful in and of itself; most patients only experience uncomfortable symptoms when the nucleus pulposus seeps through the tear and enters into the spinal canal and inflames nerve tissue. When this occurs, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Pain (either dull or sharp)
- Muscle spasms or cramping
The location of these symptoms will depend on which region of the spine is affected, but may be felt in the neck, back, torso, buttocks, pelvis, or even the extremities.
Treating a Torn Disc
Contact your primary care physician if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. A number of conservative treatment options are available, providing many patients with relief from the uncomfortable symptoms that are often associated with a torn disc. Those who fail to respond to conservative treatments may want to consider the minimally invasive, outpatient procedures performed by the orthopedic surgeons at Laser Spine Institute. Contact us to learn more about our safe and effective endoscopic procedures.