Disc extrusion, also known as a ruptured or herniated disc, is a degenerative spine condition where the nucleus material of an intervertebral disc seeps into the spinal column, which can lead to nerve compression and significant neck and back pain.

Causes of a disc extrusion can include traumatic injury, overexertion, illness, and obesity. But the most common cause of this condition is the natural degeneration that accompanies the body’s aging process.

As the body ages, years of wear and tear can take their toll on the spine. The spine then undergoes a process of degeneration, which includes:

  • Dehydration – the discs begin to lose water content and collagen. They become thinner, less elastic and less able to absorb the pressures of the body’s day-to-day movements.
  • Bulging disc – a disc can begin to bulge outside of its normal perimeter. This occurs because the disc’s core, the nucleus pulposus, is pressing on the weakened disc wall, and because the disc itself is under pressure from surrounding vertebrae.
  • Disc protrusion – this is a more severe form of bulging disc, where the disc is still intact but has protruded even farther into the spinal canal. A protrusion may involve up to 180 degrees of the disc’s circumference.
  • Disc extrusion – a disc wall finally develops a tear when it’s under a large amount of pressure, and the inner disc material extrudes into the spinal canal, possibly exerting pressure on nearby spinal nerve roots or the spinal cord.
disc extrusion

Common symptoms of this condition include stiffness, pain, and unexpected muscle weakness. In some cases, it can also create a burning or numbing sensation.

Depending on the severity of your disc extrusion, treatment comes in a variety of forms. Most disc extrusions heal on their own, but the symptoms can be controlled through conservative treatment.

Nonsurgical treatment of a degenerative disc extrusion typically involves a combination of traditional and holistic methods, including:

  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Cutaneous stimulation like massage and TENS therapy
  • Restorative yoga or other exercises
  • Prescription or over-the-counter analgesics
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Transdermal analgesic pain patches
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Alternative treatments like acupuncture and supplements

Surgery for a disc extrusion is usually reserved for severe cases that have affected quality of life for several months. As an alternative to the painful and invasive spinal surgery, stem cell treatments may be an option for sufferers of this debilitating condition.