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Ways to diagnose a disc extrusion

The spine is an intricate arrangement of vertebrae, shock-absorbing discs, cartilage, joints, muscles and ligaments, all working together to provide structural support and mobility. As we age, spinal discs can begin to lose their elasticity, making them vulnerable to damage. In fact, most people over the age of 40 have as least mild disc degeneration, but in the majority of cases it goes unnoticed since the condition is usually asymptomatic in its early stages. Many patients only begin to experience discomfort once the fibrous outer wall of a disc has shifted from its natural alignment enough to put pressure on a nearby nerve root. When this happens, symptoms such as radiating pain, tingling and muscle weakness can manifest at the injury site as well as anywhere along the path of the affected nerve.

The expulsion of a disc beyond its normal boundary is sometimes referred to as a disc extrusion. There are several different types of disc extrusions, but all of them fall into two basic categories. If the disc wall has weakened and is protruding outward but remains intact, it may be referred to as a bulging or slipped disc. If the outer wall has torn, it may be called a ruptured or herniated disc.

If you suspect you may be suffering from a disc extrusion, the first step is to visit your primary care doctor, who can perform a physical examination of your spine, test your reflexes and muscle strength, and determine what motions trigger your pain. Afterward, your physician may order additional diagnostic tests, including:

  1. X-rays. Although they can’t directly image a herniated disc, X-rays can help rule out other conditions such as tumors, scoliosis and bone spurs.
  2. CT scans. Using a compilation of X-ray images taken from different angles, CT scans provide detailed, cross-sectional images of bones, organs, blood vessels and other internal structures.
  3. MRI scans. Powerful magnetic imaging allows doctors to accurately assess the condition of spinal discs, including their alignment, hydration and whether or not they’re compressing a nerve root.
  4. Myelograms. By injecting dye into the spinal fluid, X-rays and CT scans can more easily image nerve roots and the spinal cord itself.

After the location of a disc extrusion has been determined, a treatment strategy can be devised for pain management. If you have been diagnosed with a bulging or ruptured disc and conservative approaches have not alleviated your chronic discomfort, you may be a candidate for one of the minimally invasive surgeries performed at USA Spine Care. Contact a member of our team today to learn how you can obtain a free MRI review* to begin the evaluation process.

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