Article reviewed and approved by Dr. Ibtissama Boukas, physician specializing in family medicine
You have been diagnosed with disc protrusion. Do not panic! The diagnosis is not fatal, and there are several strategies to improve your condition.
On the other hand, it is essential to become aware of certain elements in order to avoid errors or false beliefs which could delay your healing.
In the following article, we cover 10 essential things to know after being diagnosed with a protruding disc. You will come out with vital information and a better understanding of your condition.
To learn all about disc protrusion, check out the following article: The disc protrusion from A to Z: What is it, and what to do?
1. The protrusion can progress to a herniated disc.
Disc protrusion refers to a bulging disc. In other words, the disc protrudes due to pressure from the gelatinous nucleus on the annulus fibrosis. (see picture).
This deformation of the disc can progress to a herniated disc if the pressure exerted by the gelatinous nucleus is strong enough, and pierces the fibrous annulus.
If you fear that your condition is serious, fill out this questionnaire which will allow you to tell if your back pain comes from a serious attack: I have back pain: is it serious?
2. It can sometimes cause sciatica or cruralgia.
La sciatica usually results from irritation of the sciatic nerve. About the cruralgia, it appears when the crural nerve (also called femoral nerve) is irritated.
But how can these nerves be affected? Like the intervertebral discs are close to the nerve roots, a disc protrusion can obstruct the nerves and cause symptoms of sciatica ou cruralgia.
So if you ever have leg pain (possibly associated with numbness), it is possible that they come from a disc protrusion.
3. It even exists in people with no back pain.
Here are some startling statistics:
• In 20-year-olds with no lower back pain, 29% had a disc protrusion.
• In people aged 80, again without back pain, 43% had a disc protrusion. (Source)
This means that disc protrusion is not a fatal diagnosis in itself. The body has tremendous adaptive abilities, and disc damage is usually only symptomatic if it is associated with inflammation and/or nerve irritation.
In other words, the protrusion may not be the main (and only) source of your pain. We will come back to this concept later.
4. MRI is the only way to diagnose disc protrusion.
Currently there is only themedical imaging which is able to diagnose a disc protrusion. Obviously, clinical tests carried out by a clarifying health professional will corroborate and clarify the diagnosis.
Among the imaging tests available, magnetic resonance is able to clarify the level where the protrusion is, as well as other characteristics (nerve irritation, type, etc.).
5. The protrusion may resolve on its own.
As the gelatinous core is mainly made up of water, the protrusion can resorb on its own, and dry out somewhat.
Also, if the body recognizes the damaged disc as a pathogen, it will trigger an immune response that will heal the disc protrusion.
It is for this reason that one can observe a disc protrusion one day, then see a healthy spine a few years later at themedical imaging.
6. The Mckenzie Technique can be effective in treating symptoms.
La Mckenzie method is an assessment and treatment technique for classifying back problems into different categories.
Disc protrusion is often associated with mechanical disorders affecting movement and function. To this extent, the Mckenzie method will identify a direction of movement improving the condition, and will suggest substantial exercises.
7. Disc protrusion usually does not require surgery.
As the gelatinous nucleus does not pierce the fibrous annulus in the presence of disc protrusion, the prognosis is theoretically more favorable than the herniated disc.
With this in mind, conservative treatment is usually sufficient to relieve pain and resume daily activities. This treatment usually includes pharmaceuticals, as well as sessions in physio, osteo, or other health professional.
In more severe cases, doctors sometimes resort to infiltrations. Anyway, the invasive methods should be considered as a last resort, and when more natural methods have failed.
8. Healing of a protruding disc depends on several factors.
Back pain is complex, and the source of low back pain is often multifactorial. Pain is modulated by the brain, and not only depends on damaged anatomical structures.
For example, the stress, sleep and level of physical activity influences back pain. Thus, healing should take into consideration all these factors in order to optimize the return to normal life.
9. Smoking could have harmful effects on your records.
Being a smoker can have a influence on back pain, and thus slow down your recovery.
The cigarette accelerates the degeneration of the intervertebral discs compared to those who do not smoke. This can indirectly lead to potentially symptomatic disc protrusions and herniations over time. (Fogelholm et al, 2001).
One more reason to quit if ever you are a smoker!
We've covered 9 essential things to know after being diagnosed with a protruding disc. Once understood, this information will allow you to adapt and optimize the management of your condition.
The next step? Continue to inform yourself about your condition. Take a proactive approach, and be sure to incorporate a progressive and adapted exercise program. Ideally, consult a health professional who will be able to guide you on the path to recovery.
To learn more about disc protrusion: The disc protrusion from A to Z: What is it, and what to do?
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