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Prolapsed disc

Prolapsed disc definition

A prolapsed disc is known by several different terms, including a slipped disc, herniated disc, ruptured disc or herniated nucleus pulposus. No matter which term your doctor may use, these terms all describe a spinal disc that has leaked out some of its inner gel-like substance into the spinal canal due to a tear in its outer wall.

How a prolapsed disc is diagnosed

A doctor will likely recognize the signs of a prolapsed disc based on your description of symptoms and a physical examination. Medical imaging may be used to confirm the diagnosis and identify the extent of the condition.

Causes of a prolapsed disc

A spinal disc endures a lot of stress and pressure from the movements of normal, daily activity. Over the years, spinal discs naturally weaken, flatten or become brittle, making them susceptible to becoming misshapen and eventually tearing. Often, a prolapsed disc is the result of spinal degeneration or an injury.

Symptoms of a prolapsed disc

An individual can have a prolapsed disc for many years without experiencing any symptoms. Symptoms will generally occur if the damaged disc intrudes on the space of a nerve root that extends out from the spinal cord. When a nerve root becomes irritated, it may result in symptoms that include:

  • Neck or back pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness

These symptoms can appear along the entire nerve pathway and stretch into other areas of the body. In the cervical (upper) spine, these symptoms are more likely to affect the head, diaphragm, upper body, arms and hands. Likewise, in the lumbar (lower) spine, symptoms may occur in the lower back, hips, legs and feet. This condition is more commonly seen in the lumbar spine, where the spine endures the most weight and pressure.

Treatment for a prolapsed disc

There are many nonsurgical treatment options that a doctor may recommend as a first step to alleviate your symptoms. These may include:

  • Over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory pain medications
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy, gentle exercise or stretching techniques
  • Rest in limited amounts
  • Behavior modifications, such as avoiding standing for long periods of time

Many patients have found that alternative therapies can also help. These may include massage therapy, chiropractic manipulation or acupuncture.

Minimally invasive spine surgery

If conservative treatment methods are ineffective at relieving symptoms, the clinically appropriate next step may be minimally invasive spine surgery. At Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia, our surgeons perform minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery that helps patients find relief from spine conditions while offering a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication than a traditional open spine surgery.

If you would like to find out if you’re a candidate for a minimally invasive procedure at Laser Spine Institute, contact us today for a no-cost MRI review.*