The vertebrae in our spines are situated so that the vertebral body faces the front of the body, the spinal cord runs through the middle of the bone, and the spiny processes or projections are facing the back.
Because of the way the spinal cord rests in the middle of the vertebrae, it is susceptible to being compressed in the event of a central disc extrusion. A central disc extrusion occurs if a disc’s material between the vertebrae moves into the spinal canal, which may cause severe pain and symptoms.
Causes of central disc extrusion
While a central disc extrusion may be caused by sudden trauma or incorrect lifting and twisting, most conditions develop due to age and natural disc degeneration.
The discs of the spine act as shock absorbers and are made of flexible, sturdy cartilage that’s saturated with water. Each disc has a strong outer layer, known as the annulus fibrosus; the nucleus pulposus is the disc’s gel-like interior.
As we age, the discs begin to dehydrate, or lose water. Dehydration may weaken the discs, making them susceptible to bulging or herniation under the weight of the surrounding vertebrae.
A bulging disc occurs when the nucleus pulposus pushes outward against the weakened outer wall. A disc extrusion occurs if the annulus fibrosus tears, causing the interior material to leak out of the disc and into the spinal canal.
Symptoms of central disc extrusion
A central disc extrusion may impinge the spinal cord due to the direction that the disc material is pressing, which could cause shooting or burning pain at the site of compression.
If the disc extrusion is located in the neck region of the spine, radiating symptoms of pain, weakness, tingling, cramping and numbness in the arms and hands may occur. A mid-back central disc extrusion, while rare, may produce pain in the upper back and chest. Severe thoracic extrusion cases may lead to paralysis in the lower body.
The spinal cord tapers off into a bundle of nerve roots called the cauda equine — commonly referred to as the horse’s tail — in the lower back. If a central disc extrusion occurs in this area, you may feel pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in one or both legs and feet. Symptoms such as the loss of bladder and bowel control and leg paralysis indicate a rare but serious medical emergency known as cauda equina syndrome. These symptoms require immediate medical attention, as the condition can be life threatening.
Conditions like central and paracentral disc extrusion may need immediate attention due to their proximity to the spinal cord. If conservative, nonsurgical treatments such as pain medication and physical therapy are not enough to treat the severity of your symptoms, your physician may recommend surgery.
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