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Our St. Louis physicians explain how a ruptured disc affects patients

Composed of 90 percent water in healthy adults, spinal discs are the cushions located between the vertebrae of the spine. Often described as the spine’s shock absorbers, they are made of strong connective tissue that helps keep the vertebrae separated and in the proper position during movement or in the event of physical impact to the spine. They also help protect the spinal nerves that we depend on for everyday functions, including breathing and digestion. A ruptured disc, also known as a herniated disc, can cause pain that disrupts everyday activities, and it can also lead to other, more serious problems.

Ruptured disc causes

The most common cause of a ruptured disc is simple wear and tear. During the natural aging process, our discs begin to lose their water mass, causing them to shrink in height. This places an increased amount of pressure on the outer layer of the disc, which also has become prone to cracks in the outer wall because of the water loss. Eventually, the pressure on the disc may lead to fluid escaping into the spinal column through a tear in that outer wall, causing a condition described as a ruptured disc.

In other cases, a person may develop a ruptured disc as a result of lifting heavy items on a routine basis over a prolonged period of time, or from traumatic injury from a car accident or a fall. The most common locations for a disc to rupture are in the neck and lower back areas.

Ruptured disc symptoms

Ruptured discs alone do not generally cause pain and symptoms. However, when the disc material migrates into other areas of the spinal column, impinging or compressing the spinal cord or nerves, patients can experience chronic pain. Symptoms can include:

  • Isolated pain in the area of the ruptured disc
  • Weakness
  • Loss of movement
  • Burning sensations
  • Radiating pain into arms or legs
  • Inability to stand or walk for long periods of time
  • Trouble sleeping comfortably
  • Radiating numbness
  • Radiating tingling

Living with these symptoms can be debilitating, which is why we are dedicated to helping as many patients as possible through our procedures at Laser Spine Institute, St. Louis.

Diagnosis of a ruptured disc

A medical diagnosis of a ruptured disc will typically start with a physical exam. As part of the exam, the physician will ask about the patient’s medical history and current symptoms, including whether the discomfort occurs or gets worse with certain activities. The physician may tap specific parts of the patient’s arm or leg with a tiny hammer and observe the reactions in order to determine whether there is nerve compression. The physician may also observe the patient’s muscle movement and palpate some parts of the body, looking for evidence of the source of the pain.

Depending on the results of the physical exam, the next step may include diagnostic tests such as a CT scan or MRI that can help medical staff assess the condition of the patient’s spinal discs.

Ruptured disc treatment – conservative and alternative

Once a ruptured disc has been confirmed through a medical diagnosis, the patient and the physician will choose a treatment plan. Before looking into surgery as an option, we recommend exhausting all of the available conservative treatments, including medication, physical therapy, massage, corticosteroid injections and lifestyle changes. Some patients experience significant relief by alternating the application of hot and cold compresses to the affected area, performing stretching exercises and taking care to adopt proper posture and lifting techniques.

Others have found pain relief through alternative treatments outside of conventional medicine as well, including chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture.

Surgery for a ruptured disc

Though the above treatments are effective for many patients, some are unable to find relief without surgical attention. For these patients Laser Spine Institute offers an effective alternative to traditional invasive open surgery.

Performed through a less than 1-inch incision, our procedures boast a shorter recovery time and lower risk of complication than those associated with traditional surgery.^ If you are suffering, do not wait to find relief.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today for more information and ask for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.