Disc Protrusion Vs Herniation: What Is The Difference?

Two of the most common spinal injuries involve the intervertebral discs. Commonly referred to as disc protrusion and herniated disc, many who suffer from these conditions are unclear as to the differences between them.

Spinal or intervertebral discs are a the fibrous “cushions” between the spinal vertebrae. Discs function to create flexibility of the spine while maintaining a separation between the vertebrae, thereby acting as a “shock absorber” and eliminating or easing friction between the bones. Some of the most common injuries of the spine involve the discs which are naturally susceptible to compression, tearing or bulging.

Common Symptoms

Both disc protrusion and herniated disc injuries can be painful and debilitating or alternatively have little symptomatic affect depending on the location and severity of the injury. Both conditions can worsen or lead to degeneration of the spinal column as the victim ages. Muscle weakness, loss of range of motion, arthritis and numbness in the extremities are common symptoms caused by a protruding or herniated disc.

Disc Protrusion Versus Disc Herniation

A protruding or bulging disc occurs when the outer ring surrounding the disc tears allowing the inner disc to change shape and protrude through its fibrous barrier upon compression. Much like a slowly leaking tire, the gelatinous center of the disc enlarges upon compression and bulges through the disc’s outer wall.

A disc herniation may also be referred to as a ruptured disc. In contrast to a protruding disc, one can think of a disk which has herniated as a tire which has experienced a blow-out. Typically more sudden and painful in nature, a disc herniation can include the fragmentation and subsequent displacement of cartilage or bone in addition to leakage of the soft central disc fluid.

Both conditions can only be detected through the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI since initially, soft tissues, not bones are involved in the injuries.


Herniation or protrusion of the discs may both resolve with the passage of time, moderate exercise and sometimes limited bed rest. If this is not the case, victims of these conditions may suffer acute pain or nerve damage which can ultimately lead to muscle weakness, incoordination or loss of control of the bladder or bowel. If these conditions become apparent as a result of disc damage, medical treatment in the form of drug therapy and surgery may become necessary. When evaluating the necessity of these more advanced options, the probability of inflammation or muscle spasm in the muscular tissues surrounding the injury must be taken into account. Since spinal injuries are slow to heal, time may afford other possibilities for disc injury sufferers.

Source by Victor Brown