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Collapsed disc information, including symptoms, causes and treatments, for patients at Laser Spine Institute’s St. Louis surgery center

While the term “collapsed disc” may sound sudden and menacing, it actually describes a gradual degenerative process. Being diagnosed with a collapsed disc doesn’t necessarily mean you will require treatment, but there are many options available if symptoms develop.

Defining a collapsed disc

Just as it sounds, a collapsed disc is defined as a spinal disc that has lost height. Spinal discs serve as shock absorbers for the spine and are comprised of a fibrous outer layer and a gel-like inner core. Gradually, after being subjected to years of pressure and stress, these discs can begin to lose shape and flatten.

How is a collapsed disc diagnosis made?

If your physician suspects that you may have a collapsed disc, he or she will begin the diagnosis process by discussing the symptoms you are experiencing as well as your full medical history. Next, a physical exam will be conducted to evaluate your nerve function, reflexes and muscle strength. If your physician suspects that a degenerative disc condition is the source of your symptoms, an MRI, CT scan or X-ray can be used to verify the condition, along with the location it is affecting.

What causes a collapsed disc?

For many patients, the causes of a collapsed disc are unavoidable. The spinal discs absorb the bulk of the daily wear and tear that the spine endures, and after many years, it’s common for a disc to weaken or lose elasticity. However, there are several factors — such as obesity, alcohol and tobacco abuse, high-impact sports and poor posture — that can increase the pressure being put on a disc and accelerate its collapse.

Identifying the symptoms of a collapsed disc

The symptoms of a collapsed disc can be wide ranging because there are several degenerative spinal conditions — including spondylolisthesis, bone spurs, spinal stenosis and herniated discs — that can develop as a result of a disc collapse. Any of these conditions can put pressure on a spinal nerve root, resulting in symptoms. Depending on the area of the spine where the collapsed disc has occurred, symptoms can include localized pain, pain that radiates to the arms or legs, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling.

Choosing a treatment option for a collapsed disc

Conservative treatment options for a collapsed disc are designed to help reduce the pain and pressure being put on an impacted nerve root. Common choices include lifestyle changes to shed excess weight, stretching, strengthening exercises, pain and anti-inflammatory medications and rest. Alternative treatments that may also provide relief include massage therapy, chiropractic care, yoga, acupuncture and Pilates. However, it is important to always consult with your doctor when exploring alternative treatments

Is surgery a treatment option for a collapsed disc?

In cases where a patient has exhausted the conservative and alternative treatment options and is still experiencing severe pain from a collapsed disc, surgery may be an option to consider. Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery.^ We offer outpatient surgery for patients in St. Louis for a wide range of degenerative spinal conditions, including a collapsed disc.

Contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* that can help you determine if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.