Spinal discs are designed to consistently support the bones of the spine and keep the backbone at its normal height. However, if the tougher outer wall of a disc breaks down, the disc can lose height. When this happens, you have what’s known as a collapsed spinal disc. If not treated, disc problems like this can contribute to other issues with the spine, such as nerve irritation and increased wear on vertebrae. Continue reading to learn about collapsed spinal discs.
What Causes Spinal Discs to Collapse?
Spinal disc collapse is normally a slow process that occurs with age and regular wear from daily movements. However, there are times when sudden (acute) trauma can damage a disc enough to make it collapse. It’s important to note that a “collapsed” disc isn’t a “herniated” disc. With a collapsed disc, the outer shell becomes weak enough so the disc flattens, but inner disc material doesn’t break through.
How Can You Tell if You Might Have a Collapsed Spinal Disc?
What’s similar between collapsed and herniated discs is that it’s possible to have no symptoms at all if the damage is mild. If this is the case, you might not even be aware you have a disc problem unless another issue with your spine develops and it’s detected on an image test. However, you may experience symptoms if the loss of disc height contributes to spinal cord or nerve compression. Some of these symptoms might include:
- Pain around the affected disc
- Tingling sensations and numbness that extends to nearby areas if nerves are irritated
- A noticeable reduction in range of motion
- Muscle weakness caused by related damage from the collapsed disc
How Are Collapsed Discs Diagnosed?
Because symptoms associated with a collapsed spinal disc can be similar to what’s common with other spine-related issues, you’ll need to have a Santa Monica spine surgeon perform a thorough physical exam. You’ll likely be asked about your symptoms and what actions or movements seem to trigger them. You may also be asked to make certain movements so possible instances of nerve impingement (compression) can be identified. Confirmation of a suspected diagnosis of a collapsed disc is usually made when image tests are performed.
What Are the Treatment Possibilities?
Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment for a collapsed spinal disc is usually based on the symptoms and the extent of the collapse. With mild symptoms, you may be advised to make some lifestyle changes (e.g., modifying your activities, avoiding foods that tend to trigger inflammation, and getting more exercise to strengthen spine-supporting muscles). Collapsed spinal disc treatment may also involve:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy exercises
- Massage therapy and other forms of passive physical therapy
- Spinal injections
- Surgery that might include disc replacement, spinal stabilization procedures, or nerve decompression if conservative treatments aren’t effective
The areas most likely to be affected by collapsed spinal discs are the neck and lower back, since these are the most movable and exposed parts of the spine. Even if you’re not experiencing any disc-related problems now, it never hurts to take steps to keep your spine’s spongy supportive discs as healthy as possible, which you can do by watching your posture, drinking plenty of water, being cautious when active or playing sports, and eating nutrient-rich foods.
If you suspect you may have a collapsed spinal disc, see a spine specialist as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis. The Spine Institute offers a variety of treatments, including total disc replacement. Santa Monica residents who need information about collapsed discs or have any other concerns about your spinal health should contact the caring professionals at The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 and schedule an appointment today.