What are Extruded Discs?

Extruded discs explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors

Low Back PainLow back pain is a significant health problem in the United States. More than a quarter of the population will experience low back pain at some time in their life. This condition can be caused by inflammation of the soft tissues, muscles, nerve roots, or spinal discs. Those that experience such pain for over three months are said to have chronic lower back pain.

Such chronic pain may be due to a herniated disc. Spinal discs are composed of a soft viscous center (nucleous pulposus) surrounded by a thick outer wall (annulus fibrosis). Damage or pressure due to injury, shock, or aging can force the contents of the disc to press against the outer wall, forming a herniated disc. These discs may become extruded if the nucleous pulposus is forced through a weakened area of the annulus fibrosis. Furthermore, the disc may undergo sequestration if the extruded material escapes from the disc and seeps into the spinal column.
Most extruded disks occur in the lower back. The contents extruded from the disc may come in contact with a spinal nerve, a nerve root, or the spinal cord itself causing painful symptoms. This pain may present as a dull ache on one side of the body, weakness in the lower back, shooting pain, or sometimes loss of bladder or bowel control.

Causes of Extruded Discs

Thoracic Bones, Discs, Nerves and Cord Spinal discs provide protection and support between each vertebra. Factors associated with aging and lifestyle cause the discs to become gradually weaker. This can cause the disk to degenerate or become fragile. Such discs are vulnerable to tearing along the annulus fibrosis. This could allow the contents of the disc to be extruded and cause painful symptoms.

Injuries or trauma can contribute to the development of extruded discs as well. Sudden impact, overextension, or trauma can weaken or tear the outer wall of the disc. Many professional athletes sustain extruded discs due to severe injuries that occur during training or competition.

There are many aspects of normal life that may contribute to the development or prevention of extruded discs. Low-impact exercise involving stretching, good posture, and a diet that provides sufficient calcium can protect people from developing low back pain. However, standing or sitting at a desk for extended periods of time, heavy lifting, or intense workouts can contribute to damage in the lower back.

Treatments for Extruded Discs

Epidural Steroid Injection - XRAYThe treatment of extruded discs depends on the severity of the injury and the level of pain. Extruded discs can frequently be treated by the application of heat or cold treatments, non-prescription medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a healthy diet, and low impact exercise.  These therapeutic modalities often allow an extruded disc to generally decrease to its normal size.

Patients experiencing more severe pain may require injections of an anesthetic or epidural steroid, in order to significantly lower symptoms of pain, inflammation, and nerve root compression.

Surgical treatment may be required if the therapies described above fail to relieve the symptoms. A discectomy may be performed to remove the extruded disc material.  Removal of this material reduces the pain and inflammation in the lower back. The procedure is minimally invasive and almost half a million patients undergo this surgery every year.


Extruded discs are most likely to occur in the lower back.  Spinal discs can herniate due to stress, degeneration, or injury, and can become extruded discs when a tear in the outer wall allows the disc contents to escape into the body. The exposure of nerves or the spinal cord to this material can cause moderate to severe pain.

The application of heat or cold treatments, non-prescription medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a healthy diet, and low impact exercise can relieve the pain in most patients.  Patients with severe pain due to an extruded disc must undergo more extensive treatment, such as injections or a discectomy.

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