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Disc protrusion overview

Disc protrusions affect the spinal discs of the neck and back. Imagine the spine as a long, cylindrical structure made up of vertebrae with arches of bone that the spinal cord passes through. Oval-shaped discs lie between each vertebra to cushion the spine. Each disc consists of an outer wall and an inner gel-like material. A disc protrusion is when spinal pressure causes the center of the disc to push out of its normal alignment with the spinal column.

How do disc protrusions occur?

With age, spinal discs degenerate, weaken and may become damaged. For instance, the disc may tear and push core material into the spinal canal, which is called disc extrusion or a herniated disc. If the disc does not tear, it can still be deformed and displaced from its normal position. This occurs a bit like expanding a water balloon outward by squeezing it in the center.

Disc protrusions are similar to bulging discs, but the protruding part can be categorized as focal or broad-based. “Focal” means that less than 90 degrees of the disc’s circumference is protruding beyond the vertebrae above and below the disc. “Broad-based” implies that 90 to 180 degrees of its circumference is protruding outside of the vertebral boundaries. In cases of a bulging disc, the protrusion or bulge involves more than 180 degrees (or more than half) of the disc’s 360-degree circumference.

Symptoms of disc protrusions

The trouble with a disc protrusion is the vertebrae surround small open spaces that house the spinal cord and nerve roots. If part of a disc pushes past its normal perimeter, it can transfer stress to these nerves. This nerve compression is what causes any painful disc protrusion symptoms, including:

  • Tingling. This sensation is described as a pins-and-needles feeling in the extremities. This could be a feeling similar to when an arm or leg falls asleep, which is also due to temporary neural compression.
  • Numbness. If nerve compression due to disc protrusions is severe, loss of sensation in the extremities can be experienced.
  • Radiculopathy. This consists of pain that begins in the neck and radiates down through the arms (cervical disc protrusion) or begins in the lower back and radiates down to the feet (lumbar disc protrusion). Thereby, producing a symptom which may be called sciatica because the disc protrusion is pressing on the sciatic nerve.
  • Loss of motor skills. A disc protrusion can cause muscles to lose their strength and responsiveness.

Treatments for disc protrusions

If your doctor suspects that disc protrusions are causing your symptoms, he or she will likely complete a full physical and an MRI or CT scan before diagnosing a neck or back disc protrusion. Many patients find meaningful pain relief with a course of conservative treatments including rest, physical therapy and over-the-counter pain medication. Surgery for disc protrusions usually isn’t considered unless weeks or months of these conservative treatments don’t bring acceptable relief and a return to normal activity.

Traditional open back surgery involves a large incision that severs supporting muscles and can lead to a long, possibly painful recovery period. The minimally invasive spine surgery performed at USA Spine Care is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back procedures because it uses a small incision that leads to less scarring and a quicker recovery.^ If you would like information about successful treatment options for disc protrusions, our dedicated team can tell you more about our minimally invasive spine procedures.

USA Spine Care is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck or back pain. Our team of board-certified surgeons+ will be able to determine your best surgical option to relieve your debilitating condition. To learn more about the types of minimally invasive procedures we offer to help treat disc protrusions, contact us today. We are here to help guide you through your journey to wellness.

We are pleased to offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.

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