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Collapsed disc definition — what happens when spinal discs lose height

A collapsed disc is defined by the gradual loss of spinal disc height due to aging and other factors like genetics, weight and injury. While not always painful on its own, a collapsed disc can cause debilitating symptoms if it narrows nerve pathways or leads to bone spurs due to increased vertebral friction. These symptoms can be very disruptive to everyday activities, affecting your ability to work in the yard, run errands or get a good night’s sleep. Having a better definition of a collapsed disc by learning about the causes, symptoms and treatments can be important if you’re living with this condition and hoping to find lasting relief.

Collapsed disc causes and symptoms

The spinal discs, which cushion the vertebrae and allow for basic movement, lose water content and elasticity with age. This makes them less able to withstand the stresses put on them by the weight and movement of the upper body, and over time they can begin to flatten out. When discs lose their height, there is less space available between each of the vertebrae, which is how symptoms related to this condition can develop.

Symptoms related to a collapsed disc are usually the result of nerve compression caused by narrowing of the spinal canal or the nerve root exits. In addition to causing local pain the neck or back, spinal nerve compression can also lead to radiating symptoms in the upper or lower body, depending on their location in the spinal column. For example, a collapsed disc in the cervical (upper) spine can affect the neck, arms and hands. While a lumbar (lower) collapsed disc can cause the following symptoms to travel into the lower body:

  • Shooting pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Cramping
  • Muscle weakness

Treatment options for a collapsed disc

Symptoms from a collapsed disc are usually first treated with a course of conservative treatment options, such as rest, ice packs, heating pads, over-the-counter medication and light exercise. More involved nonsurgical options like physical therapy and epidural steroid injections may also be recommended by a doctor or a specialist.

Surgery can become a serious consideration if a full course of conservative treatment does not improve symptoms enough for a return to normal activity. Before consenting to a highly invasive traditional open spine procedure, reach out to the caring and dedicated team at USA Spine Care. Our minimally invasive spine surgery uses a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine. This results in an outpatient procedure with less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open neck or back surgery.

To learn more and find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures, reach out to us today and ask for a no-cost MRI review.*

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