In between each of the vertebrae of your spinal column are intervertebral discs with layers of cartilage that add cushion and allow the spine to bear weight. When one of the discs collapses, the deterioration of its fibrous outer wall that protects the jelly-like fluids inside loses height and shrinks. Many people have a collapsed disc that remains unrecognized and asymptomatic. Problems only occur when the collapsed disc puts pressure on nearby nerves, disturbs the spinal cord or causes vertebrae to rub together painfully.
What Causes a Collapsed Disc?
Although traumatic injury may increase the progress of a collapsed disc, the cause of most collapsed discs is the wear and tear of the spine that occurs as a regular part of the aging process.
A collapsed disc may not necessarily produce any symptoms. However, when a collapsed disc disturbs the spine, it can result in painful symptoms. The reduced disc height leads to an impingement of a nerve root or the spinal cord, disrupting vital nerves and causing pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness.
In the cervical region of the spine, known commonly as the neck area, pain can radiate to the head, neck, shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers. In the lumbar region or lower back, pain can radiate to the buttocks, legs, feet, abdomen, and hips. In the thoracic region or the middle area between the neck and lower back, pain radiates through the chest, back, abdomen, and hands.
A collapsed disc can lead to other ailments besides general pain, numbness, and tingling. The decay caused by a collapsed disc can force the disc outside of its usual shape, causing pain, discomfort, and herniated or bulging discs. The collapsed discs can also force vertebrae to rub against each other, causing growths known as bone spurs, which can easily disrupt or compress nearby nerves.
Treating a Collapsed Disc
A doctor will perform a physical examination and talk to you about your medical history. Medical imaging and visuals from an X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan will be utilized to diagnose a collapsed disc. Although it can’t be corrected, symptoms can be treated with a combination of exercise and medication. Strengthening muscles around the spine, improving flexibility, and losing weight can reduce symptoms of back problems. Ask your physical to recommend what form of physical treatment is right for you, whether it be physical therapy, low-impact aerobics, or yoga. When combined with the right medication, managing pain can become less of a burden. Depending on the severity of your situation medication ranging from simple painkillers and anti-inflammatories to more potent treatments like corticosteroid injections and antidepressants can be utilized. If conservative treatments fail to provide results, you may be recommended for surgical options.
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