Disc Prolapse

Disc Prolapse

A slipped disc is a common problem among men aged 30-50, often due to a job that involves heavy lifting or, paradoxically, too much sitting.

What are spinal discs?

Your spinal discs are small, flat cushions that sit between your vertebrae, the bony building blocks that form your spinal column.

There are 23 discs in total:

  • 6 in your cervical spine (your neck)
  • 12 in your thoracic spine (your middle back)
  • 5 in your lumbar spine (lower back).

Your spinal discs have 3 main functions:

  1. Absorbing shock
  2. Helping to hold your spine together
  3. Enabling slight mobility in your spine.

What is a disc prolapse?

Sometimes the soft, inner part of the disc bulges out through a weak spot in the outer disc. That’s known as a prolapsed disc.

Any of your 23 discs can prolapse but it’s most likely to happen in your lower back (lumbar spine) because there is more stress there.

What are the symptoms of a prolapsed disc?

A prolapsed disc may press on a nerve root. That can cause sudden, severe pain in your back and, depending on the nerve in question, possibly also in your leg. With a cervical disc prolapse, the pain may radiate from your neck to your arm or shoulder.

Along with pain, you may also experience numbness or tingling along the path of the affected nerve.

Sometimes, you have no symptoms from a prolapsed disc and only discover it when it appears on a spinal scan ordered for a different reason.

What causes a disc prolapse?

Disc prolapse causes include:

  • Age-related degeneration which makes your discs less flexible and more prone to tearing after even a small strain
  • Your occupation – if you’ve got a physically demanding job that involves a lot of lifting, bending, pushing and twisting then you’re at greater risk of a prolapsed disc
  • Being overweight which places extra stress on the discs in your lower back
  • Smoking, which reduces the oxygen supply to your discs, making them break down more easily
  • An inherited predisposition towards disc prolapse. 

What’s the difference between disc prolapse vs herniation?

It’s a difference of degree.

With a disc prolapse, the inner part (nucleus) of the disc pushes through a weak spot in the outer layer (annulus) but the outer layer itself remains intact. This is known as a bulging or prolapsed disc.

A herniated disc involves more severe damage. With a herniated or protruding disc, the inner part of the disc pushes completely through the annulus and squeezes out.

Disc prolapse treatment

Treating a prolapsed disc depends on which disc is involved, which nerves (if any) are affected and how severe the pain is.

You may find that the symptoms gradually ease over several weeks, helped by over-the-counter painkillers and physiotherapy.

If that doesn’t work, you may try corticosteroid injections or muscle relaxing medication.

If your symptoms persist, you’re in severe pain or your nerves are significantly affected, then it may be necessary to consider disc repair surgery.

Disc prolapse surgery at the Victorian Orthopaedic Spine Surgery

Our care pathway is designed to ensure you only progress to spinal surgery if you really need it. If you do, though, surgery may provide a way to help relieve your symptoms.

We perform many microdiscectomies, a minimally invasive surgery to remove portions of a herniated disc and relieve pressure on your nerves.

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All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.