Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi
A sequestered spinal disc is a condition in which a small part of the vertebral disc breaks off and migrates into the spinal canal. It occurs when the disc’s nucleus pulposus pushes through the outer annular fiber and a piece of the nucleus breaks free. This free portion of the disc can cause a couple different spinal issues, including spinal nerve root compression and symptoms that mimic a herniated disc.
What Causes Sequestered Discs?
Sequestered discs can develop for a number of different reasons, including but not limited to:
- Acute trauma
- Overstress from activity or poor posture
- Natural degeneration over the years
It’s also worth noting that inactivity, tobacco use and alcohol consumption can all contribute to spinal degeneration and in turn increase your risk of developing a herniated or sequestered spinal disc.
Symptoms of the condition can vary depending on how much of the nucleus pulposus breaks free, what spinal segment is involved and where the sequestered piece moves following its shift. As we mentioned above, symptoms can mimic that of a herniated disc, which includes issues like regionalized pain, radiating pain, increased discomfort with movement, pain that subsides with inactivity or while laying down, spinal weakness and decreased range of motion. If the free segment is located in your neck region, you’ll probably also feel discomfort or pain in one or both of your arms, and if it’s located in your lower spine, symptoms may be noticeable in one or both of your legs.
Sequestered Disc Diagnosis and Treatment
Getting an accurate diagnosis is key, because although symptoms are similar to that of a herniated disc, they are two different issues and need to be treated as such. A consultation with a spine specialist can help uncover the root cause of your pain, and they’ll do this with a physical examination, by asking about your symptoms and by taking images of your spine with an x-ray or similar method.
If you have a broken off portion of your disc, you probably think that surgery is your only option, but that’s not necessarily the case. In instances where the sequestered piece has not traveled far, you can actually find symptom relief with physical therapy and pain medications. These small fragments that are broken off will continue to degenerate, so with the right conservative care, they can actually disappear while the injured disc heals itself. Most patients experience great results with just conservative care. However, if you’re one of those rare patients who doesn’t respond to conservative care, surgery can help. The surgeon will work to remove the free fragment and address the injured disc in one minimally invasive option. This procedure also has fantastic results, but again, many people find relief before this stage.