Between each vertebra or bony segment of the spine is a disc that protects it from damage and allows it to be flexible. Occasionally, due to injury or deterioration, these discs can become herniated or torn causing the inner nucleus pulposus to become forced against the protective outer layer.
These discs are comprised of a soft inner material known as nucleus pulposus. It is surrounded by a firmer protective layer called the annulus fibrosus. When trauma, deterioration, or excessive force is placed on the discs, the nucleus pulposus may seep out, causing the disc to extrude.
Although disc extrusions can occur in any region of the spine, the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) regions are the most commonly affected. This is because they tend to receive most of the impact with movement. Surrounding nerves can also receive pressure due to the unevenness caused by the disc extrusion.
Apart from pain the neck and lower back, other symptoms of disc extrusion include:
- Tingling down the buttocks or one leg
- Weakness in the legs
How is Disc Extrusion Diagnosed?
Medical imaging tests are the most accurate method of diagnosing a disc extrusion. X-rays are often taken initially to show the unevenness of the spine, which is a good indication of herniated disc or disc extrusion. If this unevenness is seen on the initial radiographs, an MRI should follow as it is the best imaging modality to show soft tissue clearly in three dimensions.
Initial treatment for disc extrusion is generally concentrated on reducing the inflammation surrounding the injury. Directly following the injury, ice pack treatments should be used for the first 24 to 72 hours.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen will also help in swelling reduction. Reducing the swelling also helps relieve the pressure on the spinal nerves. Bed rest and avoiding use of the affected areas will help as well. Physical therapy, gentle massage and chiropractic treatment are also effective in aiding the healing of disc extrusion.
In cases where disc extrusion does not respond to conservative treatment, surgery is recommended.
Early diagnosis and treatment are always the best option for back problems of any sort. If you have experienced a back injury or are experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible.