The injury happened while she was performing stunts for her upcoming role in Batwoman.

By Arielle Tschinkel
September 30, 2019
Rodin Eckenroth/Stringer/FilmMagic/Getty Images

ICYMI, Ruby Rose is set to star in the CW's newest superhero series, Batwoman, premiering October 6.

As you might guess, playing a superhero calls for some serious stunt work—so serious, in fact, that Rose recently revealed to her 14 million Instagram followers that she underwent emergency surgery to repair two herniated discs she suffered while performing stunts for the show.

"To everyone asking about my new Pez dispenser scar on my neck... A couple months ago I was told I needed an emergency surgery or I was risking becoming paralyzed," Rose wrote on Instagram, sharing a graphic video of her surgery. "I had herniated two discs doing stunts, and they were close to severing my spinal cord. I was in chronic pain and yet couldn't feel my arms." (Related: Abby Lee Miller Shares Raw Photo of Her Spinal Surgery Scar)

Rose also thanked her surgeon, Robert Bray Jr., M.D., in her post: "Thank you Dr. Bray for everything you did and for allowing me to keep working and doing what I love. I am forever in your debt."

What is a herniated disc?

To answer the question of what is a herniated disc is, first you need to know what role discs play in your body—more specifically, the spine. The bones (aka vertebrae) that stack up to form your spine are cushioned by small, round, rubbery pillows (discs), which sit in between the individual vertebrae and act as "shock absorbers for the spinal bones," according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS).

Discs have a soft center (the nucleus) and a tough outer layer (the annulus). When a disc becomes herniated (also referred to as bulged, slipped, or ruptured), it means that a piece of the disc's center (nucleus) has pushed out of its annulus and into the spinal canal by way of a tear or rupture in the annulus. Once the disc is displaced, it ends up pressing on the spinal nerves, causing pain that can often be severe, according to the AANS.

This can happen in any part of the spine (as well as near the neck and upper back), though the AANS notes that it most commonly happens in the lower back.

How does a herniated disc happen?

A disc can become herniated through excessive strain (like from lifting something too heavy) or as a result of a single injury or trauma (such as a fall or an accident) to the spinal cord. It can also happen as you get older, as your disc material naturally degenerates with time, according to the AANS.

Despite that natural degeneration in older folks, though, herniated discs are actually most common in young and middle-aged adults, according to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). Repeated smaller injuries over time (think: excessively lifting heavy objects with improper form, or incorrectly performing certain physical activities) can cause the annulus fibers of the disc to weaken, setting up the potential for a ruptured disc. In other words, you might do the same workout or activity for months, even years, seemingly without any issues. But if your form was off all that time, or you were significantly straining to lift something beyond your capabilities over and over again, you could have been putting too much pressure on your discs, therefore weakening them in the process.

At that point, simply bending or lifting something in a certain way could potentially put so much pressure on the disc that it ruptures, per the UMMS. The most common way to diagnose and confirm a herniated disc (as well the severity of the rupture) is via an MRI scan. (Related: Could Piriformis Syndrome Be the Cause of Your Pain In the Butt?)

How painful is a herniated disc?

Surprisingly, back pain doesn't tend to be an issue in those suffering a herniated disc. When a disc is herniated in the thoracic area (the upper back and spine), symptoms typically include "pain that travels around the body and into one or both legs," as well as numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in one or both legs, according to the UMMS. The AANS notes that "symptoms vary greatly" when it comes to any type of herniated disc, with some people experiencing little or no back pain, while others report pain along the sciatic nerve, which can extend to various parts of the body. (Related: Is It Ever OK to Have Lower-Back Pain After a Workout?)

If the disc is herniated in the neck (as Rose's appear to have been, based on how she describes her symptoms and the location of her surgical scar, though she never specifies), the pain will usually present near the shoulder blades and might radiate to the shoulders, arms, and sometimes, the hands and fingers, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

"[Rose] had two discs that were injured," Dr. Bray explained in another video shared by the actress on YouTube. "The discs were ruptured out on her spinal cord, and it was badly compressing the spinal cord. She had dysfunction with balance and numbness down her arms [and] her reflexes were off."

Initially, if the rupture is not severe, your doctor may recommend observation, rest, physical therapy, and/or anti-inflammatory pain medications to help heal the herniated disc. Some patients receive an epidural steroid injection (EPI), a method "usually reserved for more severe pain" that can treat inflammation in the spinal nerves, according to the UMMS. (Related: What to Do If You Have Lower-Back Pain from Running)

When is surgery necessary?

Surgery is usually an option if pain continues to get worse and other options are ineffective, according to the AANS.

For severely herniated discs, like Rose's, a surgery called a laminotomy and discectomy is performed, in which surgeons make an opening in the lamina (the back part of a vertebra that covers your spinal canal), create an incision around the area of the herniated disc, and remove the parts of the disc that have ruptured into the spinal canal, thus relieving any pressure or irritation on the nerves of the spine, according to Watkins Spine, a spine institute in Marina Del Rey, California.

In Rose's YouTube video, Dr. Bray explains that he "took the [disc] fragments off the spinal cord" and put in two artificial discs, which will be able to "twist, turn, bend, and move," allowing Rose to regain full range of motion. (Related: What's Really Making Your Back Hurt)

How dangerous is a herniated disc?

If left untreated or not treated properly, chronic pain and/or "loss of control or sensation in the legs or feet" can happen, potentially leading to full paralysis over time, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Recovery time varies based on the treatment and, if surgery is performed, the type of surgery received. Generally, though, recovery time "varies from one to four weeks depending on the underlying disease treated and your general health," according to Mayfield Brain and Spine, a clinic based in Cincinnati, Ohio. About 80 to 90 percent of patients treated with a laminotomy and discectomy will make a full recovery, though five to 15 percent are at risk for a recurrent disc herniation, according to the organization. (Related: Effed Up Your Back? Do These Gentle Exercises to Relieve Pain)

As for Rose, Dr. Bray said her surgery "went great." While it took "a few months" of recovery for her to get back to 100 percent, he expects "she'll be back to doing all the [stunt] things for her show." But most importantly, he noted, "now she's safe."

Watch Rose's full YouTube video to see how she's doing after surgery:

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