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What is a Ruptured Disc?


Your spine is made up of a series of bones called vertebrae and cushioning the space between each of these bones is a disc. Intervertebral discs have a tough exterior (annulus fibrosus) and a softer, almost gel-like center (nucleus pulposus), and together they work to absorb the shock of your spine’s movements. A ruptured disc, which is also commonly referred to as a herniated disc or slipped disc, happens when the nucleus pulposis (gel-like center) pushes through your disc and into the spinal canal. A ruptured disc causes pain in the part of your neck or spine where it’s located and can also cause symptoms that radiate to the extremities.

Ruptured discs don’t always cause symptoms, and when they do they can often be relieved after a few weeks of conservative treatments like pain medication and physical therapy. When ruptured disc symptoms interfere with mobility or continue even after a series of nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be recommended.

Chronic back or neck pain with pain and numbness that radiates to your arms or legs can interfere with your ability to perform even simple tasks. We understand how frustrating that can be, and we offer minimally invasive procedures that have helped thousands put an end to neck and back pain. Call Back Pain Centers of America (BPC) at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to learn more about how we can help you go beyond pain.

Pain from ruptured disc

Ruptured Disc Causes and Risk Factors

A ruptured disc is often the result of the gradual wear and tear on the discs that happen with aging. As we get older, our discs gradually dry out and lose their flexibility, which makes them more prone to tears.

Along with the disc degeneration that happens with age, the risk of a ruptured disc may be increased by any of the following:

  • Being overweight – Carrying extra body weight puts extra stress on your spine.
  • Certain occupations – Occupations that involve repetitive movements like lifting, twisting, bending, pushing, or pulling increase the risk of a ruptured disc.
  • Family history – You may be genetically predisposed if someone in your family has had a ruptured disc.
  • Smoking – Tobacco use has been found to speed up the degenerative process of the spine.
  • ScoliosisScoliosis and other spinal conditions that alter the shape or alignment of the spine can put extra stress on discs.

Poor posture and improper lifting can also increase your risk of a ruptured disc.

Ruptured Disc Symptoms

A ruptured disc doesn’t always cause symptoms. Ruptured disc symptoms occur when the disc material presses on the spinal cord or nerve. The symptoms of a ruptured disc can range in severity and where they are felt depends on the location of the ruptured disc.

Symptoms of a ruptured cervical (neck) disc may include:

  • Neck pain that radiates to your shoulder, arm, and sometimes the hand and fingers
  • Tingling or numbness in the shoulder or arm
  • Arm weakness

Osteoporosis can lead to pain

Symptoms of a ruptured disc in your thoracic spine (upper back) may include:

  • Upper back pain that may radiate to the lower back, abdomen, or legs
  • Numbness and tingling in one or both legs
  • Weakness in the leg

Symptoms of a ruptured lumbar (lower back) disc may include:

  • Low back pain that radiates to the buttocks, legs, and feet
  • Tingling or numbness in the buttocks, legs, or feet
  • Leg weakness

Stiffness and impaired flexibility and range of motion are also common ruptured disc symptoms.

Ruptured Disc Treatment Options

A ruptured disc can usually be treated using a series of conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and pain medication. For most, this is enough to clear up their ruptured disc symptoms within a couple of weeks. These treatments include (check with your doctor to find out which is best for you):

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medication – OTC pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can relieve mild to moderate pain and inflammation.
  • Heat and cold packs– Applying heat and/or cold packs can help with your pain and inflammation.
  • Massage – Massage can help to ease sore and stiff muscles.
  • Prescription pain medication – Stronger pain medication, such as narcotics, or anticonvulsants for nerve pain may be prescribed for severe pain and radiating nerve pain. Note that Back Pain Centers of America is not involved in prescribing narcotics.
  • Muscle relaxants – Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant if you’re having muscle spasms.
  • Corticosteroid injections – Steroids injected directly into spine can be used for temporary relief of moderate to severe pain providing the body more time to heal itself without further intervention.
  • Physical therapy – Exercises to relieve pressure on the spine can help with pain and improve your flexibility and range of motion. Learning proper posture and safer lifting techniques can also help you avoid a ruptured disc and other back problems later.

For some, conservative treatment isn’t enough and surgery may be recommended for the treatment of a ruptured disc. Minimally invasive spine surgery offers patients immediate relief from ruptured disc symptoms and is performed on an outpatient basis. These are effective alternatives to traditional open back surgery that requires a lengthy recovery.

Don’t delay relief. If you’re ready to stop living with chronic back pain, BPC offers many minimally invasive procedures that can help you get back to your active lifestyle. Give us a call today at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] so we can match you with a board-certified spine specialist who can provide the treatment you deserve.

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