Collapsed Disc

A collapsed disc is one of the medical terms that are sometimes used to describe an intervertebral disc that has undergone degenerative changes, putting the health of the spine at risk. Other terms that are often used interchangeably to describe the collapsed disc back condition include black disc, disc protrusion, slipped disc, torn disc, ruptured disc, bulging disc, and herniated disc.

Degenerative changes to the discs of the back may include conditions where the disc material diminishes in its nucleus, or when the outer layer that keeps the disc rigid weakens, and then tears. The outer portion of the disc is called the annulus fibrosus and it is composed of durable dense collagen I and I fibers. These collagen fibers are composed of many tough layers that are designed for long use, though they may wear out eventually like the treads of a tire. The inner portion of the disc is called the nucleus pulposus, and it is jellylike and malleable. The components of this nucleus of the disc that make up its gel-like consistency includes a loose suspension of keratin, chondroitin, proteoglycan aggrecans, collagen fibrils, and hyaluronic chains. The malleability of this goopy suspension in the nucleus of the disc gives the disc its ability to act as a shock absorber for the spine. The rigidity of the annulus on the outside of the disc helps them maintain the structural integrity of the disc and to hold the contents of the nucleus inside of it.

If either of these two sections of the disc becomes damaged, it can hurt the structural integrity of the back, as well as the spinal nerve roots that lie adjacent to the discs that are degenerated.

One of the main functions of the discs is the separation of the vertebrae that they lie between. Each intervertebral disc lies between two vertebral bodies, which are the weight bearing parts of the vertebrae (spinal bones). Due to a disc herniation or the loss of material in the center of the disc, the disc may lose its height and collapse downwards. Eventually the disc may lose so much height that the vertebrae contact pone another, which can lead to the development of bone spurs (osteophytes). The development of these bone spurs may cause pain and serious spine problems such as spinal stenosis if they are pointed towards the spinal canal, reducing the sides of the vertebral foramen which houses the nerves of the spinal canal. The deterioration of this joint may cause an increase in pressure towards other joints in the nearby area, such as the other discs and the facet joints. If you understand this, you could see how the degeneration of the disc can begin a chain reaction of pathology that spreads through the rest of the spine.

Another reason that the intervertebral disc may change in shape and height is if its outer portion (the annulus) ruptures. This rupture of the annulus may cause the contents of its interior to spill out of its center and press into structures such as the spinal nerves and ligaments. The gel material in the nucleus may stay where it is in the spine interior and remain there for a long time. This is because there is no real mechanism for the body to re-absorb it, so it may stay where it is and disrupt the functioning of the disc.

Back pan may result due to this constriction of the spinal nerves, which may range from mild to severe. If the nerve is constricted for days and weeks, the nerve damage may become permanent.

Physical Examination to Diagnose Back Problems: Medical imaging tests such as X-Rays may tell doctors a lot about the width and thickness of the intervertebral discs. CT Scans and MRIs provide much more information about the discs in terms helping to diagnose back conditions such as bulging discs and herniated discs.

But the physical examinations is still important in determining how much the nerve damage has affected the function of the structures that the nerve supplies. During the physical exam, the doctor will tap on the arms with a reflex hammer to see if the patient's reflexes have been affected. The doctor will ask you to push one of your legs or arms against a resistance to test for normal or abnormal muscle strength. The doctor will palpate certain sections of your back or extremities to see where the source of the pain or referred pain is coming from.