I find that one of the most confusing things for patients learning how to read a low back MRI report is understanding that there are different types of disc problems that each require a different therapeutic approach. So without understanding their type of disc issue, there is no way to understand which of the newer regenerative medicine technologies may work the best.
The discs are spacers in the spine that sit between the vertebra bones. They are gel filled with a tough outer covering and act as natural shock absorbers while also allowing a certain amount of motion at each level. The disc sits in the front of the spine, while the facet joints sit in the back part.
When researching how to read a low back MRI report, most patients believe that all disc issues are the same, but nothing could be further from the truth. The four main disc injury types follow:
I’ve put together the infographic above to help you figure out which type you have. Click on the image to see a more detailed PDF.
A herniated disc is when the outer covering of the structure breaks open letting the inner gel herniate out. A bulging disc is when the outer covering doesn’t completely break open but the fibers are stretched and weak, leading the inner gel to cause bulging. A torn disc is when the outer covering gets a tear that doesn’t result in a herniation or bulge but does cause pain due to ingrown nerves or the disc leaking nasty chemicals on the associated spinal nerve. Finally a degenerated disc is one that has collapsed due to few living cells inside causing a lack of production of the chemicals that usually plump up the disc.
A great way to figure this out is to learn how to read a low back MRI report. Here are the terms that a radiologist will use to describe each type:
These days, there are physicians who are offering to inject platelet rich plasma (PRP) or stem cells into low back discs. This is all very promising technology, but regrettably many physicians aren’t too choosy about which types of discs they treat. We’ve been injecting these things into discs since 2005 and were the first in the United States to do that work, so we’ve gotten a good sense of what works for which disc type:
The upshot? Different disc injury types need different regenerative medicine solutions. Getting up to snuff on how to read a low back MRI and then discovering which type of disc injury you have can help you find a new technology that can help you avoid surgery!
*DISCLAIMER: Like all medical procedures, Regenexx® Procedures have a success and failure rate. Patient reviews and testimonials on this site should not be interpreted as a statement on the effectiveness of our treatments for anyone else.
Providers listed on the Regenexx website are for informational purposes only and are not a recommendation from Regenexx for a specific provider or a guarantee of the outcome of any treatment you receive.
About the Author
Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in regenerative medicine and the clinical use of mesenchymal stem cells in orthopedics. He is board certified in physical medicine as well as rehabilitation and in pain management through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.…