Causes & Risk Factors
As we age, spinal discs can break down and sometimes result in degenerative disc disease. Several factors contribute to this, including:
- Loss of fluid: spinal discs and joints are partly composed of cartilage. Over time, the water and protein content of the body’s cartilage changes, resulting in weaker, more fragile and thinner cartilage throughout the body. This reduces the disc’s ability to act as a shock absorber and makes them less flexible. Loss of fluid also makes discs thinner and narrows the distance between the vertebrae.
- Tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc: tiny cracks or tears in the outer layer of the disc can cause the disc to bulge, break open or break into fragments.
- Injuries: injuries to this disc from a fall or a car accident or certain sport activities can cause swelling, soreness and instability.
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease vary widely from person to person:
While many people have no pain, others have severe pain that limits their activities. An affected disc in the neck can result in neck or arm pain or tingling in the shoulder and arms, while an affected disc in the lower back may result in pain in the back, buttock or leg.
As a degenerated disc loses its ability to absorb stress and provide support, other parts of the spine become overloaded, leading to irritation, inflammation, fatigue, muscle spasms and back pain.
Diagnosing degenerative disc disease generally begins with a physical exam to check the range of motion in your neck and lower back. Your pain specialist will also check your reflexes and the strength of your muscles to try to discern if there is pressure being placed on your spinal nerves or spinal cord.
Pain from degenerative disc disease can sometimes be self-managed by scheduling rest periods, using heat or cold therapy, doing exercises that can boost strength and reduce stiffness, and taking over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
At PMIR, we offer treatment options for degenerative disc disease that include: