Torn Disc


What Is a Torn Disc?

In the spine, discs are spongy cushions located between the bony vertebrae that make up the backbone. These discs stabilize the spine and act as shock absorbers.

An accident like a fall, a blow or a sudden twisting motion can tear the outer part of the disc, causing back pain. If the tear becomes worse, the soft material in the center of the disc can seep out, causing a herniated or ruptured disc.

Most disc tears heal with conservative treatments like rest, gentle exercise and physical therapy. At Aurora Health Care, you can choose from a wide range of noninvasive treatments based on how severe your torn disc is. And if you need surgical care, our orthopedic and spine surgeons have advanced expertise in minimally invasive approaches to help you get back to the things you love faster.

The Aurora Difference

Expert Care to Manage a Torn Disc

If you suspect you might have a torn disc, it’s important to consult a doctor. Whether you need sports medicine care, physical therapy or orthopedic spine care, you’ll find the treatment you need in Aurora’s single, coordinated health system.

We offer:

  • Skilled diagnosis: Our doctors have advanced training and years of experience diagnosing orthopedic and sports injuries. We’ll get to the root of your disc tear pain and offer personalized solutions that will work for you.
  • Advanced testing and imaging: You’ll have access to advanced diagnostic technology like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and 3-D computed tomography (CT) scans. This technology helps us pinpoint the source of your pain so we can find the most effective treatment possible.
  • Noninvasive and surgical treatment options: Whether you need chiropractic care, physical therapy, supportive bracing or surgery, we offer a variety of advanced treatment options to address your disc tear. Learn about all of our orthopedic services.
  • Convenient locations: When you’re eager to get care right away – and get back to work or play – you can find treatment at locations throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. See our locations.

Symptoms & Causes

Do You Have a Torn Disc?

If you have a disc tear, you’ll likely feel back pain that is:

  • In the middle of the back, in the neck or along a nerve path
  • Worse when sitting than when standing
  • More painful with coughing, sneezing or lifting

Causes of a Disc Tear

Most disc tears occur because of aging. The spinal discs are under constant strain from supporting the neck and back. By age 30, these discs begin to deteriorate and weaken. In addition to weakness due to aging, twisting or bending can also cause a torn disc.

In younger people, a traumatic injury to the back may tear the outer layer of the disc. These tears can happen because of:

  • Sports like gymnastics, football or mountain biking
  • Strenuous occupations that involve digging, building or lifting
  • A car crash, fall or other accident

Diagnosis & Treatment

Confirming a Disc Tear

When you come in for a diagnosis, we’ll examine your lower back and check your ability to move your back, legs and arms. We’ll also ask if you noticed when the back pain began and about any other symptoms you might be having.

You might have X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses a strong magnetic field to create images. These images let us see what’s going on inside your spine. To confirm a torn disc, we may also order discography, an X-ray that uses dye injected into the discs.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis at Aurora.

Treating a Torn Disc

Most disc tears recover with time and conservative treatments like physical therapy, low-impact exercise and anti-inflammatory medications.

We offer other treatments that can ease the discomfort of a disc tear, including:

  • Massage therapy: By loosening tight back muscles, our licensed massage therapists can relieve the pain of a disc tear. Learn more about massage therapy.
  • Chiropractic care: Our chiropractors can help realign bones and joints to provide relief while a disc tear heals. Find out more about chiropractic care.
  • Physical therapy: Our therapists will recommend customized exercises and stretches that can help you improve mobility in the muscles and ligaments around a disc tear. Our therapists also offer specialized treatments to relieve pain and help you regain movement – like TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and dry needling (using tiny needles to release pressure points). Read more about orthopedic physical therapy.
  • Injections: By injecting pain medication or a jelly-like lubricant into damaged tissues, our doctors can help you feel better – and possibly postpone or avoid surgery while you heal.
  • Surgery: If time, therapy and medication don’t relieve your disc pain, you may need a more advanced treatment like surgery. At Aurora, we offer minimally invasive surgical treatments, which use tiny incisions so you can heal faster. Read more about spine surgery.

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