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Is A Torn Disc The Same As A Herniated Disc?

The spinal cord is a very complex structure and supports the body in a number of ways. It consists of the 33 vertebrae and the intervertebral discs which act as a cushion for the vertebrae. It provides support to the body to be upright; it protects the spinal canal and the nerves from getting injured etc. Any damage to the vertebrae or its structure can lead to chronic problems. Some of the conditions which the spinal cord might go through are torn disc, herniated disc, spondylosis, spondylolisthesis etc. Many people have a question here is whether the torn disc and the herniated disc are the same or not. It is important to understand if a torn disc is the same as a herniated disc or both are different problems.

Is a Torn Disc the Same as a Herniated Disc?

It must be noted that a torn disc and a herniated disc are not same with respect to the place the tear happens and hence the symptoms as well as the treatment varies.

What is a Torn Disc?

A torn disc can be considered as a condition where the outer layer of one of the spinal cord that cushions the vertebrae develops a tear. At times it is witnessed that the rupture also allows leakage from the gel like center of the disc. The discs within a person’s spine sit between the spinal bones. The elastic and the tough nature of the bone help in the cushioning of the spine because it not only bends but also twists all throughout the day. In case any one of the cushions develop a tear in the outer shell it can result in a torn disc. Our bodies undergo serious natural dehydration which allows to develop tears in the disc walls. It can be underlined that the weakening of the shell takes place due to the loss of water. It makes it even more prone towards the damaging of the bone.

A torn disc is termed as an annular disc tear resulting from deficiency of one or more layers of annulus fibrosis.1 In many cases annular rears or a torn disc may allow disc herniation, which can further cause symptoms and other complications.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is the displacement of the intervertebral disc from its original position due to a weakening in the supporting tissues. It is often a result of a crack in the outer layer of the cartilage which is quite tough in nature. It can be stated that the inner cartilage is much softer which allows in the bulging of the disc. Often the herniated discs are called slipped or ruptured discs even though the entire disc does not slip or break in this case. A very minimal area of crack is the part which is affected. This is commonly seen due to degeneration mostly, as a part of aging.

Herniated disc is even more painful because the bulging is further and is most likely to disturb the nerve roots. The distraction can originate from the firmness of the nerve. An extremely painful inflammation of the nerve root is caused by the herniation disc. In case a test indicates that a person suffering from herniated disc then it is not always true that the disc is the cause of the pain because there are numerous cases of the herniated disc without any sign of back pain.

Differences Between Torn Disc and Herniated Disc in Terms of Symptoms

To understand if a torn disc is the same as herniated disc or not, it is important to understand the symptoms and causes of both.

Symptoms of a Torn Disc:

  • Neck or back ache
  • Cramping of muscles
  • Extreme weakness
  • Sensitivity

It can be put forth that the manifestation of the symptoms depends largely on the area of the torn disc. These symptoms are stated as the lumber spine is heavily responsible for the transmission of signals to the lower extremities. It causes discomfort when the disc near the nerve roots tears which gradually results in a pinching sensation.

Symptoms of Herniated Disc:

  • Pain in arms or legs
  • Because of weakening of nerve, the patient feels weak and faces difficulties to work, hold or lift things
  • Tingling and numbness in body parts
  • Increase of pain during night
  • Pain while sitting, standing and walking
  • Dysfunction of bowel and bladder.

Causes of Both Torn Disc and Herniated Disc

Although, torn disc is not the same as a herniated disc, the factors causing it can be same. These causes are:

Degeneration Related to Aging – The spinal cord begins to lose water as people get older hence making it more prone to splitting and cracking.

Accident – A car accident is a traumatic incident which has tendency to stretch the spinal discs beyond capacity. Such a pressure is extremely serious for the rupture of the healthy disc.

Injury as a Cause of Torn and Herniated Disc – The harmless motions like the running or even swinging can have a deep impact on the spinal discs. It not only weakens them gradually with time but also makes them prone to tearing. Rugby and football are some of the rough sports which can have an adverse strain on the spine.

Connective Tissue Disorders – Other common causes of disc herniation also include connective tissue disorders and congenital disorders.2 As these conditions can easily weaken the spine and the supporting structures, they are more prone to damage.

Differences in Treatment for Torn and Herniated Disc

While we understand that a torn disc is not the same as a herniated disc, the treatment approach for both also varies.

How Can Torn Disc Be Treated?

In case a person suspects of having a torn disc then it is necessary to see the doctor immediately for proper medical assistance and diagnosis. It can be stated that one of the best treatments of a torn disc is to give time in order to heal the wound. There are innumerous ways that help in alleviating the symptoms thereby allowing living a healthy and happy life in the course of recovering. The person may have severe pain due to inflammation near the site of the tear. In case there is nerve root compression, it might result in excruciating pain. There are quite a number of conservative treatments for a torn disc which includes:

Patient must consider visiting a spine specialist who might suggest a spine surgery based on the condition of the patient. In most cases, the minimally invasive spine surgery is recommended, that helps in relieving them from intense back and neck pain. The surgeons, during the minimally invasive spine surgery, makes an incision less than 1-inch along with innovative muscle sparing techniques. These help in the alleviation of the symptoms. Less bleeding helps in decreasing the complication which was more in traditional open back surgery.

Treatment for Herniated Disc

Treatment for a herniated disc must be planned after proper evaluation and as advised by the experts.

  • Pain medicines would be suggested by the doctor to arrest the pain sensation. In case, you have muscle spasm, the doctor may recommend muscle relaxants.
  • Physiotherapy can be effective when the pain does not subside within a few weeks.
  • Surgery is the last resort although very few people eventually land up to this. If there is no improvement even after 5-6 weeks and the patient continues to have loss of bowel control, experiencing pain while standing and walking and weakness, surgery would be suggested.
  • Acupuncture has reportedly worked great in chronic neck pain and back pain.
  • Massage therapy is also an effective method to ease out pain.
  • Yoga can work wonders. Combining breathing exercises, physical activities and meditation can gradually reduce pain while relaxing the muscles.

While it is true that a torn disc is not the same as a herniated disc, Whether it is a torn disc or a herniated disc, a person experiencing the symptoms must not delay in consulting a doctor and get things checked. A proper early diagnosis helps in relieving the pain and getting better much faster.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 21, 2019

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