Disc tears typically occur when a vertebral disc compromised by disc degeneration or the natural aging process suffers significant trauma. When this happens, the outer layer of the disc tears and the inner material moves outward into the tear, which creates a slight disc herniation. In some cases, the material will push completely through the outer layer of the disc, which results in a complete disc herniation.
Since disc tears are often caused by injuries and stress, they are most common in the lower back or neck, where the spine has more motion.
Disc tears are usually caused by a traumatic injury to the affected area. Traumatic injuries may occur during high-impact sports, car accidents or any other incident that applies excessive force to the spine. A disc tear is more likely to occur after a traumatic injury if the disc is already weak because of degenerative disc disease or natural aging.
Disc Tear Causes
The back and the neck bear a significant percentage of the body’s weight. As a result, they are highly vulnerable to deterioration. In fact, by the time a person hits 30 years, their spine will begin to weaken and lose flexibility. After this, simple things like bending can cause tears to the spinal column.
However, disc tears often occur as a result of the natural wear and tear that our bodies go through as we age. Other additional factors include:
If you encounter any of the above, you may be at risk for a disc tear. Even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms at the moment, it’s important to speak with your doctor so you don’t develop complications later on. When it comes to the spine, prevention is better than cure.
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Symptoms of a torn disc typically include pain in the affected area. Patients with a torn disc may also experience tingling, numbness, loss of reflexes and pain in the arms or legs, depending on the exact location of the injury.
If you have a torn disc in your lower back (lumbar region), you will feel symptoms in the legs, whereas a disc tear in the neck (cervical region) will cause symptoms in the arms, shoulders, and hands. As a disc tear progresses without treatments, symptoms will get worse, and eventually result in a completely herniated, or bulging, disc.
Typically, patients do not realize they have a disc tear until they begin to experience symptoms of other conditions that have developed as a result of the damage, such as the symptoms associated with a compressed nerve or a herniated disc. The following symptoms usually indicate a disc tear:
Cervical disc tear symptoms:
Lumbar disc tear symptoms:
In severe cases, a disc tear may lead to temporary paralysis, loss of coordination and loss of bowel control. Disc tears that cause such symptoms are usually dangerous and require prompt medical attention.
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When dealing with the initial disc tear, our doctors typically begin with a conservative treatment approach including physical therapy designed to strengthen and stabilize the area around the disc, pain medication, anti-inflammatory injections or nerve block injections to numb the nerve roots affected by the disc tear.
When all conservative treatment methods have been exhausted, our doctors turn to the least invasive surgery option possible. A minimally invasive procedure called an endoscopic discectomy might be recommended. This procedure is designed to safely remove the herniated disc material in a quick, outpatient setting.
If a disc tear has turned into a severe disc herniation, an artificial disc replacement may be required. NJ Spine & Orthopedic specializes in performing disc replacements, and our doctors have developed and perfected minimally invasive techniques using the most advanced disc technology available today.
Do you worry you may have a disc tear that requires immediate treatment? Try our Candidacy Verification tool to find out if conservative treatment or surgery is right for you, so we can help you create a personalized treatment plan.
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