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Free Fragment

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Updated June 15, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition:

A free fragment (also known as a sequestered disc) is a piece of a spinal disc that breaks away from the main disc structure and escapes through a tear in the annulus. The free fragment often travels out the side of the disc and then up or down. Once outside the disc, the fragment may cause pain, pins and needles, weakness, numbness or other symptoms (called radiculopathy) if it presses on a nerve root.

A free fragment can be hard to diagnose. An MRI may be taken to help the doctor see the fragments.

There are two types of MRIs - T1 weighted and T2 weighted. The T1 weighted allows the doctor to discern between the free fragment and the adjacent fat inside the epidural space. For this reason, the T1 weighted MRI is key for diagnosing a sequestered disc.

Free fragments are sometimes reabsorbed by the body on their own. Other times, free fragments and sequestered discs are treated with a back surgery known as discectomy.

Sources

Stadnick, M., MD. Free Disc Fragment. MRI Web Clinic. Jan 2004. Accessed: May 2010. http://www.radsource.us/clinic/0401.

Vaccaro, A. Spine: Core Knowledge in Orthopedics. Elsevier/Mosby. 2005. Philadelphia.

Also Known As: free fragment, sequestered disc fragment, sequestered disc
Examples:
When fragments from a sequestered disc press on a nerve root, you may feel pain and have symptoms such as numbness, tingling and/or weakness down an arm or leg.
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