What You Need to Know About Degenerative Disc Disease

3d rendered medically accurate illustration of painful intervertebral discs

With age comes wisdom, but there are other, less popular things that come along too. One of the most common age-related back issues is degenerative disc disease. Whether you’ve actually received a diagnosis or are trying to figure out for yourself what you’re experiencing, here’s what you need to know about this condition.

Despite its name, degenerative disc disease is not a disease but a condition in which damage or deterioration of your spinal discs leads to pain. Some people have degenerative disc disease with absolutely no symptoms. For others it can be a minor inconvenience or a source of significant pain and disability.

The condition involves the spinal discs, which are situated between the vertebrae in our spines. They are made up of a tough outer layer with a soft core. Both of these components can cause pain if damaged, as the outer layer contains nerves that will respond if it is torn, and the inner core contains proteins that leak out to the outer layer’s nerves if the disc is damaged.

Unfortunately, despite the importance and fragility of this part of the body, very little blood flows to it, and that means that once it is damaged, healing is a challenge.

Degenerative disc disease generally develops in one of three ways:

  • The spinal discs, which are 80 percent water when we are young, begins to dry out with age. This reduces their ability to function as shock absorbers, leaving the vertebrae to rub against each other.
  • Traumatic injuries such as occur from falling or being in an automobile accident
  • Wear and tear from daily activities and sports

Disc degeneration takes place over a long period of time, and those who have symptoms generally report them as minor at the beginning and eventually becoming more pronounced. As pain increases, movement becomes more painful and the spine may lose its stability.

People suffering from degenerative disc disease generally experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Pain while sitting. This is because sitting places three times more load on the discs in your lower back than standing does.
  • Pain when lifting, twisting or bending
  • Running and walking alleviate pain, while sitting and standing for a period of time tends to hurt
  • Intermittent severe pain in the lower back, buttocks, thighs and neck
  • Numbness and tingling in the hand and feet
  • Where there is damage to the nerve root, you may experience weakness in the leg muscles or a laxness in your foot.

If you are experiencing back pain, it is essential that you make an appointment with a spine pain specialist for evaluation.  An experienced physician will diagnose your condition based upon a complete medical history and physical examination, including asking about the symptoms that you are experiencing, when they began and what precipitated them. You will likely be sent for diagnostic imaging studies, including magnetic resonance imaging which will reveal any damage or deterioration of your spinal discs.

Determining the best treatment for your condition begins with diagnosis. Contact our office today to put yourself back onto the path of good health.

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