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Prolapsed Disc Explained — Your Guide to Treatment


Many people have heard of a herniated disc or bulging disc, but a prolapsed disc is not diagnosed or discussed as often. This can lead to some confusion or even anxiety for people who are told they have this condition by a doctor or treatment professional. However, symptoms generally have the same range of severity, and treatment options for a prolapsed disc take the same course as these other disc conditions.

By learning more about the causes and treatments options for a prolapsed disc, you can give yourself the best chance of finding the relief you deserve and getting back to an active lifestyle. The USA Spine Care team is happy to share the following overview to help and we welcome you to reach out with any questions or to learn more information.   

Is a prolapsed disc a herniated disc?

A prolapsed disc is a type of herniated disc. This occurs when the soft inner layer, or nucleus, of a spinal disc pushes out through a crack or tear in the tough outer layer, which is called the annulus. With a prolapsed disc, the herniated disc material consists of a relatively small part of the disc perimeter and remains attached to the disc. 

A prolapsed disc is not necessarily painful by itself, but it does cause narrowing in the spinal column which can cause nerve compression. As a result, a herniated disc can cause local pain, radiating pain, muscle weakness and tingling and numbness in the upper or lower extremities. 

Causes of prolapsed discs include aging and injury

A prolapsed disc is typically an age-related condition, but injury can exacerbate an already deteriorated disc. This is why many people develop symptoms and receive a diagnosis after injury. However, the primary underlying cause of this and other disc conditions are natural forces that cause our bodies to dry out and become less elastic, including the discs. 

Conservative therapies for prolapsed discs include physical therapy and corticosteroid injections

Like most other degenerative spine conditions, a prolapsed disc responds well to conservative therapies in many cases. At-home treatments are usually attempted first, including:

  • Getting plenty of rest to take pressure off the disc and surrounding nerves
  • Light stretching and regular low-impact movement
  • Alternating hot and cold therapy to numb the area and relieve inflammation as well as improve circulation and relax tense muscles
  • Taking over-the-counter medication on an as-needed basis

More involved conservative therapies can be highly effective as well. Corticosteroid injections combined with a full course of physical therapy can help relieve pain and inflammation on a medium term basis while strengthening the back and improving function. 

Is surgery ever needed for a prolapsed disc? 

Many patients are able to find relief from a prolapsed disc without undergoing surgery. It can become a serious consideration if weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment do not bring the relief necessary for a good quality of life. 

As an alternative to traditional open spine procedures, minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery uses muscle-sparing techniques to relieve nerve compression related to prolapsed discs, herniated discs, bulging discs and other degenerative spine conditions. This offers the possibility of a shorter recovery time with less risk of certain complications. 

Learn more about prolapsed disc relief at USA Spine Care

No matter where you are on your treatment course for a prolapsed disc, USA Spine Care can help. We have a multidisciplinary team that is dedicated to helping you create a personalized treatment plan that is right for your needs and goals for relief. 

To learn more, reach out to our caring and dedicated team today. 

Prolapsed Disc Quick Answers

What are effective treatments for a prolapsed disc?

Upon diagnosing a prolapsed disc, doctors typically recommend a course of conservative therapy. This includes rest, gentle stretching, over-the-counter medication and using a heating pad in alternation with an ice pack to relax muscles and relieve inflammation. Physical therapy and corticosteroids and physical therapy are also highly effective options that help relieve inflammation and improve function. Surgery can become a serious option if weeks or months of conservative therapy has not brought the relief necessary for a good quality of life. 

Do prolapsed discs heal on their own?

It is possible for a prolapsed disc to heal naturally with time and adequate rest. However, the healing process for spinal discs can be very slow due to limited blood flow to the area. Another factor is that due to aging, our discs tend to break down and become more prone to conditions like prolapsed discs and less able to heal themselves. 

How long does it take a prolapsed disc to improve?

The recovery time for a prolapsed disc depends on a number of individual factors, including patient age, health, weight and the severity of the condition. Some patients can see a significant improvement in symptoms within six weeks, while others may require months or longer. Chronic pain from a prolapsed disc that does not respond to conservative therapy may require surgical treatment.  

What activities should I avoid if I have a prolapsed disc? 

Doctors typically recommend getting plenty of rest and avoiding strenuous activity if you have been diagnosed with a prolapsed disc. This includes staying away from running, lifting heavy objects and engaging in any movements that put stress on the spine. However, it is also important to avoid becoming overly sedentary, which means staying as active with low impact exercise as possible.

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