Did you know that nearly everyone shows some signs of wear and tear on their spinal discs as they age? Contrary to its name, degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease; it’s a condition where pain is caused from a disc that degenerates over time.
All of the bending, twisting and flexing that occurs when we are young is made possible because of the discs between the vertebrae. Discs serve as shock-like absorbers between the bones that allow the back to remain flexible while resisting force.
When a disc is injured, it is unable to repair itself. This is due to the fact that, unlike other tissues in the body, there is very little blood supply to the discs in the spine. There are several factors that can cause discs to degenerate over time.
- Discs can dry out as we age, inhibiting their ability to absorb shock.
- Swelling, instability or soreness from an injury can also result in degeneration.
- Sports that cause tears in the outer core of the disc impact its ability to withstand force as well.
When degenerative disc disease occurs, pain is most commonly experienced in the lower back or neck. The symptoms range from nagging to severe pain, to pain in the neck that can spread to the arms and hands, weakness in the leg muscles or foot, or pain that is worse when sitting.
In order to improve the muscles that surround and support the spine, try implementing a regular exercise routine. This will help increase strength and flexibility of the muscles by improving blood flow to the back, helping to give the joints and muscles the oxygen and nutrients they need. Hot and cold therapy, spinal mobilization or surgery are alternative options as well.
To help identify degenerative disc disease, write down any signs or symptoms that you’re experiencing, as well as a list of questions to ask a doctor. If you think that you may have this condition, contact Campbell Clinic to meet with a physician.
This article was adapted from Arthritis Foundation. Read the full article here.