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Torn disc

Definition of a torn disc

A torn disc is a disc that has developed a tear in its annulus fibrosus — the hard outer layer. Spinal discs act as cushions between the vertebrae of the spine, and allow for the complex bending and twisting motions that we perform on a daily basis. When a tear develops in a disc’s annulus fibrosus, the inner gelatinous material known as the nucleus pulposus can potentially leak out of the disc and enter the spinal canal.

Diagnosing a torn disc

Only a physician can provide you with a torn disc diagnosis. He or she will do this by first listening to you describe your symptoms, reviewing your medical history in detail and performing a physical examination. If these lead your physician to believe you may be suffering from a torn disc, a CT scan, X-ray or MRI may be ordered to confirm your diagnosis.

Causes of a torn disc

The natural aging process is by far the most common cause of torn discs. Aging leads to a loss of elasticity, reduced water content and reduced blood flow in the discs, making them more susceptible to damage. Sports injuries and car accidents are two of the other most common causes of a torn disc, though other lifestyle factors can also contribute to the rapid degeneration of spinal discs.

Symptoms of a torn disc

When a disc’s annulus fibrosus becomes torn, the leaking nucleus pulposus can cause localized pain and inflammation in the disc itself. If the nucleus pulposus compresses a nerve root in the spinal canal, patients may experience radiating pain, numbness or tingling in the extremities and muscle weakness. Finally, severe cases in which the nucleus pulposus compresses the spinal cord may result in loss of fine motor skills and difficulty walking.

Treatment for a torn disc

Physicians generally recommend that patients with a torn disc first try a combination of nonsurgical treatment methods to relieve their pain. Some commonly prescribed treatments for a torn disc include pain medication, hot and cold compresses, stretching and physical therapy. Additionally, some patients explore alternative methods of treatment on their own. Though alternative treatments are not widely accepted by the medical community, many patients have found relief through massage therapy, chiropractic manipulation, herbal supplements and acupuncture.

Surgery for a torn disc

If conservative and alternative treatments do not provide relief after several weeks of months, your physician may recommend you undergo spine surgery to improve your quality of life. Before you subject yourself to the lengthy recovery time that accompanies traditional open spine surgery, consult with the experts at Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, Florida. Our board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open spine surgery, and we have helped more than 75,000 patients get their lives back from neck and back pain since 2005.

Contact us today for a no-cost review* of your MRI or CT scan to determine if you are a candidate for one of our procedures.