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Ruptured disc

What is a ruptured disc?

A ruptured disc describes a spinal disc that has developed a tear in its outer wall, allowing some of its gel-like inner material to leak out into the spinal canal. If this material compresses a spinal nerve, it can cause various symptoms of pain and discomfort. This condition is also referred to as a prolapsed disc, slipped disc or herniated disc.

How a ruptured disc is diagnosed

Diagnosing this condition begins with a review of your medical history and a physical exam by a doctor. An imaging test, such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI, may be used to rule out other conditions, confirm the diagnosis and identify the affected area of the spine.

Ruptured disc causes

There are two main factors that can cause a disc to rupture:

  • Age. The spine naturally degenerates over the years, and spinal discs can become brittle or weak. The constant pressure a disc endures from daily activity can eventually lead to it developing a tear in its outer wall.
  • Injury. High-impact sports or a physically demanding job with repetitive motions can result in an injury or wear down a spinal disc faster.

Symptoms of a ruptured disc

Symptoms of a ruptured disc occur when the disc comes in contact with a nearby nerve root. This can result in pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness along the pathway of the nerve. The location of these symptoms will depend on where along the spine the nerve is located. If the affected nerve is in the cervical, or upper, spine, symptoms may affect the upper body, shoulder, arm and hand area. More often, though, ruptured discs occur in the lumbar, or lower, spine and cause symptoms to develop in the hip, leg and foot.

Treatment options for a ruptured disc

After confirming that a ruptured disc is the cause of your symptoms, your doctor will likely recommend one or more conservative treatment methods as a first step toward pain relief. These may include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections
  • Gentle exercises
  • Stretching techniques

Some patients also choose to explore alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or massage therapy, which may help improve the condition. In many cases, some combination of conservative methods will provide sufficient relief from symptoms.

Surgery for a ruptured disc

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat symptoms if conservative options have proven ineffective. Many patients find that minimally invasive spine surgery is preferable over traditional open back surgery, as it requires a smaller incision, spares more surrounding tissue and involves a shorter recovery time^ comparatively.

At Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia, our surgeons specialize in minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery that has helped many patients find relief from spinal conditions, including a ruptured disc. Contact us today to receive a no-cost MRI review* to help you find out if you’re a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute.