Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: March 4, 2019
A collapsed spinal disc is a disc that no longer has its normal height and spacing due to breakdown of its outer wall. Sometimes this breakdown can be caused by acute trauma to the area, but more often it occurs slowly over many decades due to the natural aging process. Left untreated, they can lead to more spinal issues, so below we take a closer look at how collapsed spinal discs are diagnosed and treated.
Overview of Collapsed Spinal Discs
Collapsed discs are most common in the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) parts of our spines because these areas often shoulder the most stress, and repetitive stress over the years can lead to degeneration. It often helps to visualize the discs in our spines as jelly donuts, but with a much stronger dough surrounding the soft center. Over the years, stress will wear down this outer layer of dough, and eventually it will lose some height. It’s not to the point where it becomes misshapen (bulging disc) or ruptures and the jelly breaks from the outer layer (herniated disc), but height loss means nearby structures are at an increased risk for compression.
Partially or mild forms of collapsed discs may not impinge any nearby structures, so you may not even be aware that you’re dealing with a collapsed disc. A lot of mild cases do not result in symptom prevalence, but if a spinal nerve or the spinal cord become compressed due to a loss of space from diminished disc height, you may notice:
- Loss of range of motion
- Muscle weakness
Diagnosing and Treating Collapsed Discs
If you are experiencing any or all of the above symptoms in your spine, set up a consultation with Dr. Sinicropi. He’ll begin by reviewing your medical data and by asking about your symptoms. From there, he’ll conduct a physical exam and ask you to perform some movements to look for muscle weakness or nerve impingement. They may be able to make a diagnosis from this information alone, but to be sure, imaging tests like an x-ray or MRI may be ordered.
Once diagnosed, your spine specialist will walk you through your treatment options. Depending on the individual patient and their goals, they may achieve symptom relief through a combination of physical therapy, lifestyle changes, anti-inflammatory medications, exercise or spinal injections. If six or more weeks of conservative care fails to provide relief, surgery may be recommended. There are a few different surgical operations to address a collapsed disc, but the goal is to stabilize the spinal segment and ensure the nearby areas are free from compression. Your surgeon can walk you through the specifics of a decompression operation or a disc replacement surgery should your condition progress to the point where these options would be in your best interest.
For more information about collapsed discs, or for help with your spine condition, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi’s office today.