Degenerative Disc Disease

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?  

Degenerative disc disease is not as much a disease as it is a name for the changes that can happen to the spine as we age with past spinal injuries.  Our discs are made of a tough, rubbery exterior and a soft interior.  You are born with 90% water in your discs, making it like beef steak, soft and flexible.  They sit between the vertebrae to act as shock absorbers. As we age with scar tissue from past injuries to the spine, the spinal discs begin to degenerate because the scar tissue shrinks and reduces the movement of the vertebrae.  The movement of the vertebrae is what helps the discs to continue to get water and nutrients to them.  A dehydrated disc is like beef jerky, easy brittle and easy to tear.  This can cause herniated discs, bulging discs, secondarily osteoarthritis and possibly leading to spinal stenosis.

Degenerative Disc Symptoms

The degeneration of spinal discs may cause no symptoms at all.  It takes approximately 60% of disfunction of a nerve before symptoms may arise.  The level of intensity and longevity of symptoms  depends on each patient and the severity of their case.

Pain may occur at the site of the affected disc in the back or neck.  As the pain is often caused by compressed nerves, this pain can also travel to other areas of the body like the buttocks, arms, and legs.  Numbness and tingling in the arms and legs may also be experienced.  Pain can range from mild to severe, and even debilitating.

Degenerative Disc Causes

As mentioned previously, our spines can degenerate as a natural part of aging from old injuries.  Tears, in the tougher outer layer of the disc, are common as we grow older, but not normal. 

In addition to aging, other factors that may come into play, including obesity, smoking, repeated physical work, and injury, etc.

Degenerative Disc Treatment

Pain caused by degeneration is often treated with hot or cold packs and an anti inflammatory medication. When disc degeneration causes problems like herniated or bulging discs, spinal stenosis, or osteoarthritis, other forms of treatment may be beneficial. This may include physical therapy, stretching, decompression, and rehydrating the discs, and in some cases, surgery. While degenerative disc disease is a natural part of aging due to past injuries, there are things you can do to prevent pain and stay healthy.  If you are experiencing frequent back or neck pain, be sure to visit our office for an examination so we can create a treatment plan for you.

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