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Collapsed disc

What is a collapsed disc?

A collapsed disc is a condition that occurs when one of the discs in the spine becomes compressed by the surrounding vertebrae. In spite of the name of the condition, however, discs usually do not suddenly collapse in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, they slowly become shorter and flatter over time.

What causes a collapsed disc?

In many cases, collapsed discs are simply the result of the natural aging process. To understand how they develop, it’s helpful to understand a bit about spinal anatomy. Spinal discs are highly resilient. Their primary role is to absorb the shock that the spine sustains on a daily basis. These discs are composed of a soft inner core and a thicker, but still elastic, outer wall.

When pressure pushes down on a disc, the inner material compresses to absorb the shock while the outer wall keeps the inner core in place. However, as the body ages and the discs begin to dry out, the outer wall loses some of its elasticity. Over time, the discs lose their ability to bounce back into their original shape.

Collapsed disc symptoms

When the discs that separate the spinal vertebrae collapse, it’s common for the nerve roots located in between the vertebrae to become compressed as a result. In some cases, even the spinal cord itself can become pinched. When either of these situations occur, they can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms, ranging from minor pain and stiffness to tingling and numbness that travels along the entire pinched nerve path.

Collapsed disc diagnosis

To diagnose a collapsed disc, a physician will typically review a patient’s medical history and symptoms, as well as the results of one or more imaging scans. MRIs are typically the preferred diagnostic imaging test, although CT scans can also reveal abnormalities in a person’s spine.

Common treatments for a collapsed disc

There are several collapsed disc treatment options, and a doctor will make an individualized recommendation based on several factors, such as the location of the affected disc, as well as the type and severity of the resulting symptoms.

Most collapsed disc treatment options are conservative, or nonsurgical. Medications, exercises, physical therapy and corticosteroid injections are among the most frequently recommended options. However, there are some situations in which an individual does not obtain the benefits he or she needs from conservative treatments, at which point surgery might become a consideration.

Can I get surgery?

The answer to this question is different for every individual. Many people do not even need surgery for a collapsed disc, although there are some for whom surgery is highly beneficial.

If you’re considering surgery, the best course of action is to discuss your options with an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon. There are a number of techniques that can be used to decompress a nerve root that has been pinched by a collapsed disc, including several minimally invasive approaches. A surgical professional can help you determine if surgery is a viable option and if so, which procedures to consider.

Laser Spine Institute in Cincinnati performs minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain and other symptoms. To learn more about our approach to collapsed disc surgery, contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* to help you determine if you are a candidate for one of our procedures.