What is a Compressed Disc?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Also known as a herniated or bulging disc, a compressed disc is a condition in which the integrity of one or more discs have deteriorated to the point that the nerves exiting from the vertebrae are placed under a great deal of pressure. Depending on the severity of the situation, the condition can lead to recurring back pain or cause permanent injury to other parts of the back and spine. Compressed discs are also known as prolapsed, ruptured or slipped discs.

A healthy spine and a spine with a herniated, or compressed disc.
A healthy spine and a spine with a herniated, or compressed disc.

One of the first symptoms that indicate the presence of a compressed disc is a sense of numbness or tingling in the back and legs. In situations where the damaged disc is located in the lower portion of the back, recurring back pain originating in that region is quickly followed by recurrent pain in the buttocks and even into the thighs and legs. A bulging disc in the upper area of the back often causes numbness or pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper arms.

A compressed disc can lead to lower back pain.
A compressed disc can lead to lower back pain.

There are several factors that may lead to a compressed disc. One major factor is simply the process of aging. As the elasticity and the ability to retain liquid in the disc is reduced, the potential for a rupture or strain become possible. Other factors such as smoking or a prolonged absence of essential nutrients in the diet can also weaken the integrity of the discs and lead to compression. Men and women who are taller than average are more likely to develop a prolapsed disc, as well as people who carry a great deal of excess weight on their frames. A severe fall can also help create the condition.

A CT scan can help a doctor identify the location of a compressed disc.
A CT scan can help a doctor identify the location of a compressed disc.

Identifying the locale of a bulging disc, as well as assessing the degree of damage, is usually managed by using some type of imaging process. CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays are all utilized in the effort to locate and evaluate the condition of the damaged disc. Once the health care professional knows the location and the severity of the damage, it is possible to begin treating the situation.

Fortunately, there are a number of methods to treat a bulging disc when the amount of damage is minimal. Medications to relieve inflammation as well as drugs to manage pain are common tools. Wearing a brace or spending some time in traction may help relieve pressure on the nerves affected. Hydrotherapy, heat therapy, and cold therapy are all utilized in different situations to help restore a healthy level of function to the spinal area.

However, there are instances when a compressed disc requires surgery in order to alleviate pain and restore some amount of proper function. For the most part, the goal of the surgery is to minimize the irritation of the spinal nerves and thus alleviate as much of the recurring pain as possible. When combined with various types of rehabilitation therapy, it is possible to regain an equitable quality of life that is not encumbered with constant pain.

A compressed disc, also known as a bulging disk, is usually in the lower spine.
A compressed disc, also known as a bulging disk, is usually in the lower spine.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


There is narrowing in my L1-L2. I've had tingling pain in my right leg before. The doctor gave me medications, and let me wear a brace for more than a month but the pain shifted. I have no more numbness in my leg, but the pain is in my back and hip at the end of the day. Is my situation getting better or worse?


Is a compressed disc the same as a compressed vertebrae?


I'm 15 and have had back problems for over a year after a car accident. i just got results back after finally going to the doctor. x rays showed that i have compressed disc in my spine. i hurt so bad. is there a simple, easy treatment for me at 15? is this normal or not unusual for a 15 year old girl? someone please inform me.


I was diagnosed with a compressed disk 17 months ago and have had both epidural and facet joint injections. The first one helped but the last epidural has not eased the pain at all.


is it unusual that a sixteen year old girl has a compressed disc? Because I was recently diagnosed with it and I was just wondering if this was a normal thing to do.


What is the difference in a compacted disk and spondylolisthesis or are they basically the same thing?

I have been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis and a good friend has a compacted disk with both problems being in the lower L5-L4 and it seems that they are so similar, but our pain seems to be quite different even though the treatment so far has been almost the same meds, epidurals and rehab which have all seemed to work much better for me than for her.


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