Your spine’s discs are designed to be both cushion-like and durable, but not indestructible. One common way discs can become damaged is when the material inside breaks through the disc’s tougher outer shell. When this happens, it’s referred to as a ruptured spinal disc. Continue reading to learn more about this condition and how it’s treated.
Ruptured discs are often caused by excessive stress, such as what might happen if you repeatedly bend or twist, lift heavy or awkward objects, or sustain a hard impact from a fall or sports-related collision. Even something you might mindlessly do, such as picking up your child or grandchild, may cause a spinal disc to rupture. Discs may also be more susceptible to rupture due to the following contributing factors:
• Age-related wear (degeneration) • Poor lifestyle habits (e.g., smoking, carrying excess weight) • Occupations involving heavy lifting • Repetitive bending/twisting movements • Poor posture
There’s also evidence genetics may play a role in susceptibility to disc-related damage. Spinal deformities or abnormalities may also place added pressure on discs.
Symptoms associated with a ruptured spinal disc usually become noticeable once protruding disc material irritates a sensitive nerve root. In addition to localized pain limited to the affected area, you may also notice numbness, tingling sensations, or general weakness extending to nearby extremities. Some patients also have difficulty walking or limited range of motion.
Before treatment can be discussed, other spine-related problems need to be ruled out. This process normally involves a thorough examination, a review of your medical history, a discussion of your symptoms, and appropriate image tests. You may also be asked to make some simple movements so your range of motion can be assessed.
Since the human body has a remarkable ability to heal, most ruptured discs respond well to conservative (non-surgical) treatments. Recommendations also depend on the severity of your symptoms and the location of the damaged disc. If symptoms are mild or moderate, treatment may involve:
• Targeted physical therapy routines • Therapeutic stretches • Diet and exercise recommendations • Steroid or nerve block injections to provide enough relief to allow you to participate in physical therapy sessions without excessive pain
If your symptoms are severe or potentially life-threatening or if non-surgical treatments aren’t providing relief after several months, surgery may be your best option. Depending on your situation, this may involve a two-part procedure involving removal of the damaged disc and a fusion procedure to restore spinal stability, or your spine specialist may recommend artificial disc replacement surgery. Santa Monica patients can be reassured by the fact that many decompression and stability procedures performed today are done with minimally invasive techniques, which could mean fewer surgery risks and a faster recovery time.
The best way to prevent a ruptured spinal disc is to watch your weight, get regular exercise, and keep an eye on your posture throughout your day. Also, be careful with how you lift heavy items. If need be, use a lumbar support belt or similar assistance items. Finally, visit your doctor or a spine specialist if you notice symptoms suggesting you may have a disc problem.
If you suspect you may have a ruptured spinal disc, see a Santa Monica spine surgeon as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis. The Spine Institute offers a variety of treatments for every type of neck and back pain. If you need information about ruptured discs or have any other concerns about your spinal health, contact the caring professionals at The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 and schedule an appointment today.