Disc protrusion is a common form of spinal disc deterioration that can cause neck and back pain. More commonly known as a slipped disc, disc protrusion is the first stage of degeneration following the natural dehydration and weakening of a spinal disc.

The spinal column is an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels. A disc protrusion can occur anywhere along the length of the spinal column from the neck to the lower back, placing extra pressure on the nerves and muscles around it.

Symptoms of a disc protrusion may include:

  • localized chronic neck and back pain
  • pain and numbness, most commonly on one side of the body
  • pain that extends to your arms and/or legs
  • sciatica
  • loss of flexibility or mobility
  • pain that worsens at night
  • pain that worsens after standing or sitting
  • pain when walking short distances
  • unexplained muscle weakness
  • tingling, aching, or burning sensations in the affected area
disc protrusion

The specific symptoms caused by a disc protrusion depend on the location of the problem, as well as the extent of the disc degeneration. Because both regions are highly flexible and support significant body weight, the most common areas of the spine to develop disc degeneration are the cervical spine and the lumbar spine. When a disc slips in the neck it can cause localized pain, but if a nerve root is pinched, symptoms might extend through the shoulders, arms, and fingers. If the spinal cord is compressed by a disc protrusion in the neck, it can cause heaviness in the arms and legs, difficulty walking, and the deterioration of fine motor skills in the hands. Alternatively, a slipped disc in the lower back that compresses a lumbar nerve root or the sciatic nerve may cause lower back pain as well as numbness, tingling, sharp pain, and muscle weakness in the legs, feet, and buttocks.

Disc protrusions are more common in men than women, particularly those who are 35 to 45 years old. As a person ages, they begin to lose water content in their discs, which can cause them to slip out of place.


Most patients can relieve pain due to disc protrusion by implementing an exercise program that stretches and strengthens the back and surrounding muscles. A physical therapist may recommend exercises that can strengthen your back while reducing your pain.

While it may be tempting to refrain from physical activity while experiencing the pain and discomfort of a slipped disk, this can lead to muscle and joint stiffness. Instead, try to remain as active as possible through stretching or low-impact activities such as walking.

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers and avoiding heavy lifting and painful positions may also help. If the pain does not respond to over-the-counter treatments, your physician may prescribe stronger medications.

Your physician may recommend surgery if symptoms do not subside in six weeks or if the disc protrusion is affecting muscle function. Typically, your surgeon may simply remove the damaged portion of the disc. In more severe cases, they may replace the disc with an artificial one or remove the disc completely and fuse your vertebrae together.

As a much less invasive alternative, injections of adult stem cells harvested from your own body may be an option for healing the damaged disc.