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Spine Conditions

Ruptured Disc and Disc Injuries

The vertebrae of the spine protect the spinal cord and give supportive structure to the back. A disc is found between each of the vertebrae, which provides cushioning and protection. Injury and degeneration can damage these discs, resulting in a variety of spinal problems.

Bulging Discs

A bulging disc occurs when the disc extends beyond the space it should occupy. This condition is common among adults and is often considered to be a natural part of the aging process. A large portion of the disc is typically involved and the misshapened disc is often discovered during diagnostic testing rather than because of patient symptoms. Bulging discs usually require no treatment other than following good ergonomic practices and avoiding back strain.

Herniated / Ruptured / Slipped Discs

A ruptured disc, also called a herniated disc or a slipped disc, may become painful if it causes pressure on a nerve root or the spinal cord. The disc is referred to as being ruptured because the tough outer lining has ruptured or split, allowing some of the inner disc cartilage to be released. The inner disc cartilage, or nucleus, feels like cooked crab meat or shrimp when squished between your fingers. When this material presses against a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord, pain in the back or pain, numbness, or tingling in the body or limb areas served by the nerve may become evident. The sufferer may notice impaired movement in the affected area. In some cases, such as when no nerve root is severely compressed, no symptoms of a ruptured disc are apparent and the patient may be unaware of it until it is found during diagnostic testing. Treatment for a ruptured disc is often dependent on whether or not the patient is experiencing symptoms. Chronic pain or interference with the ability to work or care for oneself frequently necessitate treatment, including physical therapy, a short course of pain medication, or muscle relaxants. Often, a brief rest period is ordered, followed by stretching or strengthening exercises. Occasionally, surgery is required when conservative measures fail or symptoms such as loss of bowel or bladder control are present. Some patients are candidates for minimally invasive spinal surgery to relieve severe symptoms. A herniated disc without symptoms requires no treatment other than following good ergonomic practices and avoiding back strain.

Collapsed

The condition known as a “collapsed” disc occurs when a disc between two vertebrae loses height in its outer, tough layer. The disc doesn’t actually collapse, but the compression due to height loss can affect the spinal nerves or spinal cord. This condition is frequently the result of the aging process, as the disc dries out and reduces in size over the years. Other degenerative conditions may also cause this spine problem. When the disc becomes compressed, there is less room for the nerves and spinal cord. Also, less cushioning can cause the vertebrae to grind against each other, irritating the nerve. A patient may have no symptoms of a collapsed disc, but if the spinal cord or a nerve root is involved, pain, weakness, numbness or tingling may be noticeable in the area served by the nerve. Treatment typically consists of rest, physical therapy, special exercises, pain medication, or injections into the epidural space. Some patients are candidates for minimally invasive spinal surgery to relieve severe symptoms.

Dear Dr. Lowry,

Feb. 15 marked one year since the day you performed surgery on my back. I want to tell you what an outstanding success it has been. I have no pain whatsoever. Absolutely nothing. It’s wonderful. I can walk & stand much as I want to. My calf and hamstring and buttocks muscles cry for relief after 30 minutes on the treadmill but my back is mercifully silent. You gave me my life back. Thank you so very much for the wonderful way you helped me stand and walk again.

— BN