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Causes of Disc Tears

The spine is composed of 33 vertebrae, which are separated by vertebral discs. These discs act as shock absorbers, help to distribute our body weight during movement, and protect the spine’s bones from damage. 

Each disc is composed of an external ring of strong cartilaginous layers (the annulus fibrosus) which protects the nucleus pulposus, a cushioning gel-like substance located at the core of the disc. Disc tears often affect the annulus fibrosus. When a tear occurs, portions of the nucleus pulposus begin to protrude into the broken layers of the outer ring of cartilage.



It is possible to imagine this as a doughnut filled with jam; when the doughnut is compressed or broken, the jam can begin to seep through the cracks. If left untreated, disc tears can lead to bulging or herniated discs. 

Torn discs may be a result of various factors, but they are often caused by a combination of natural degeneration and injury. Let’s look at these common risk factors for disc tears below.


Vertebral disc degeneration, which is a normal part of aging, makes tears more likely. This is because, as we age, the intervertebral discs lose hydration and flexibility, making them more prone to cracks, especially when under pressure.

Excessive Stress

Forceful or repetitive motions that put excessive stress on the spine can speed up the degeneration of the intervertebral discs and make tears more likely. Throwing, lifting weights, forceful twisting, and occupational activities such as operating heavy machinery can put you at greater risk of developing disc tears. 

Traumatic Events

Direct trauma or injury – such as the whiplash from a car accident or a sudden, forceful twisting motion – can cause the annulus fibrosus to stretch beyond capacity and tear. Traumatic injury is more likely to occur in intervertebral discs that have been compromised by degeneration.

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Symptoms of Disc Tears

MRI scans have shown that disc tears are present in over 55% of asymptomatic patients. But while this condition of the spine might not come with visible symptoms at first, it is important not to underestimate the complications torn discs can lead to – which include chronic back pain and herniated discs.

Disc tears most commonly affect the lower back (lumbar spine) and the neck, and may manifest themselves as the following symptoms:

Back Pain

A tear can contribute to back pain. This is because the tear can compromise the “cushioning” power of the intervertebral disc, which can lead to friction damage and inflammation between the joints of the spine.

Spasms, Cramps, and Muscle Weakness

As the degeneration of the discs progress, the gel-like substance that composes the nucleus pulposus might begin to seep out of the annulus fibrosus and into the nearby spinal cord. 

The spinal cord is the passageway that houses the nerves transmitting signals between the body and the brain. The bulging nucleus pulposus may compress these nerves, which leads to interferences in the normal transmission of signals relating to muscle movement. 

In turn, you may begin to experience involuntary muscle movements such as spasms, cramps, twitching, and fasciculations. As nerve damage progresses, you may also begin to struggle with moving your limbs and extremities, which leads to muscle weakness and muscle shrinking.

Numbness and “Pins and Needles” Sensations

If the nucleus pulposus bulging out of the annulus fibrosus starts pressing on the nearby sensory nerves, signals relating to touch, vibration, and temperature may not be able to reach the brain. This leads to numbness, usually in the hands, fingers, or feet, and is known as paresthesia – “pins and needles” sensations.

Swelling and Stiffness

As the intervertebral disc continues to degenerate, the components of the spinal joints might start rubbing against each other or coming into contact during movement. This can irritate the surrounding tissues, such as ligaments and muscles, and lead to inflammation. The body’s inflammatory response leads to increased inflammation and build-up of fluids in the affected area, which causes swelling and, in turn, stiffness.

Regenerative Treatment Options for Disc Tears

Although torn intervertebral discs may heal without treatment, degenerative conditions of the spine are bound to progress over time and with aging. This can lead to chronic pain and expose you to the risk of severe complications, such as herniated discs. 

While pain medications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will work in the short term to alleviate the discomfort you are experiencing, these treatments are not a long-term solution to regain your spine health and mobility. 

Fortunately, thanks to today’s advances in regenerative orthopedic medicine, you can access a treatment option that does not involve surgery. Below, we’ll look at the regenerative treatments used at Orthagenex to create treatment programs for each patient. Let’s get started.

Super-Concentrated PRP for Disc Tears

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) refers to autologous blood samples that have been processed to have platelet concentrations that are 10-40 times higher than baseline levels using a lab setting. The use of PRP in regenerative medicine has received significant interest, due to its ability to deliver high concentrations of growth factors precisely and non-invasively to an area in need.

PRP procedures involve injecting the body’s own healing factors (platelets) into the injured tissue using image guidance with fluoroscopy and MSK ultrasound. This procedure can be used to treat a variety of orthopedic conditions, including joint instability, minor arthritis, ligament, and tendon injuries, and strains.

More than 30 randomized controlled trials have been carried out on the effectiveness of PRP to support the body’s ability to heal naturally by stimulating the stem cells within the targeted area.

High Dose BMA Stem Cell Injections for Disc Tears

Stem cells are an essential component of the human body and play an important role in the repair of injured bones, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues. However, when we age or suffer an injury, the body may become unable to deliver enough stem cells to the area in need.

To help with this, the High Dose BMA stem cell procedures at Orthagenex use imaging guidance to deliver concentrated bone marrow containing stem cells to the area in need. This encourages the body’s inherent ability to heal itself by replenishing cell population in the injured area.

In practice, High Dose BMA procedures are carried out by cannulating the bone near the pelvis with a trocar, a sharp-tipped device. This provides a narrow tunnel that can be used to collect samples of the bone marrow’s liquid component, which is rich in stem cells.

BMC procedures can assist patients in improving their spinal health and mobility without the lengthy and painful rehabilitation periods associated with surgery.


If you’ve suffered a disc tear, you might be dealing with severe pain and reduced mobility, which impacts your ability to move freely, be productive at work, enjoy social events, or remain independent as you age.

However, medications and surgery are no longer the only treatment options to consider. Thanks to Orthagenex’s innovative approach to treating chronic pain, you can regain your spine health without invasive procedures or fusion surgeries. 

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