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What is the difference between a collapsed disc and spinal canal stenosis?

The spine is one of the most complex structures in the human body. Comprised of vertebrae, discs, joints, tendons, muscles, nerves and ligaments, it forms an intricate, flexible scaffolding that allows the torso to twist and bend. It also creates a protective conduit for the spinal cord, a thick bundle of nerves that descends from the base of the skull and branches out through openings between the vertebrae to nearly every part of the body. With so many finely-tuned components, it’s not surprising that the spine is vulnerable to deterioration as we age.

Spinal stenosis describes the narrowing of the canal that houses the spinal cord. One of the most common causes of this condition is degenerative disc disease, a broad term that describes the degradation of spinal discs, usually due to normal wear and tear. Over time, the outer wall of a disc gradually loses its elasticity. When this happens, the structure beings to compress, which can sometimes lead to a complete collapse. A collapsed disc can cause spinal stenosis in three ways:

  • Bone spurs. Without the cushioning and lubrication provided by a healthy disc, the adjacent vertebrae may rub against one another. This friction can lead to bone spurs that protrude into the spinal canal.
  • Vertebral misalignment. A healthy disc also helps to keep the vertebrae in proper alignment. When one collapses, the discs above and below it may shift out of position, causing the spinal canal to narrow.
  • Protruding material. In some cases, material from the disc itself — the outer wall, the inner nucleus or both — can intrude into the canal, again causing narrowing.

If you have been diagnosed with a collapsed disc, spinal stenosis or some other type of spine condition and are experiencing chronic neck or back pain despite months of conservative pain-management strategies, you may want to consider a surgical alternative. At USA Spine Care, our highly skilled surgeons specialize in minimally invasive outpatient procedures that have patients up and walking within a few hours of surgery.^ To learn how you can obtain a free MRI review,* contact a member of our team today. It’s the first step in determining if you may be a candidate for our surgeries that have helped tens of thousands of patients improve their quality of life.

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