Degenerative disc disease is a normal process of the body that can cause pain and rigidity in the back, leading to problems on a daily basis.
In this article, there is going to be an in-depth explanation of degenerative disc disease, its symptoms, causes, and how to prevent it from getting worse. Also, we are going to discuss some of the treatments that we have available in the world today.
By reading this article, you will obtain insight from a doctor in one of the most common diseases. Please continue reading to get the knowledge everybody needs about this condition.
What are the vertebral discs?
The human body has a large body of bones which functions are to support ourselves and protect the spinal cord. The spine consists of several vertebrae on top of another, from the head to the pelvis or hip, with intervertebral discs within every vertebra.
These vertebral discs have two main structures within them: The nucleus pulposus and the annulus fibrosus. Water and connective tissue (Collagen and glycoproteins) mainly constitute the two of them, making a gel-like consistency. The nucleus pulposus takes most of the pressure from the spinal column. The annulus fibrosus allows the spinal disc to rotate with it.
Discs are proximate to the spinal cord. Therefore if there is a herniated disc, it could compress a nerve root. Consequently, the symptoms will present relating to the spinal nerve next to the particular degenerated disc.
What is degenerative disc disease?
It’s a chronic condition in which the discs between the vertebras wear down, generally causing friction and pain. The degeneration of the discs is a normal process we as humans suffer as we get older.
Although it’s normal, in some cases, these degenerate way more or faster than usual, causing trouble in the patient’s life. The cause of degenerative discs is still in the discussion. It is more of a multifactorial origin than a precise root.
It’s known by doctors that there is a natural change of the cells in the discs as we get older. The new cells that the body makes produce another kind of connective tissue that is not as effective.
This connective tissue doesn’t allow as much water into the nucleus pulposus, making it lose its cushion properties. The discs become flattered and with a bigger radius, allowing attrition of the vertebra and the adjacent nerves.
All of this leads to inflammation of the disc, causing cellular death, which is problematic since the discs are avascular. That is to say that, the arteries that bring blood to this tissue doesn’t penetrate it, so it gets harder for nutrients to reach cells.
When inflammation causes damage and poor blood flow, it triggers more cellular death and even more degenerative changes. This can produce a cycle in which the disc disease perpetuates itself if a doctor doesn’t check it.
What are the symptoms of this disease?
The symptoms of disc disease are quite simple. Most of the time, they cause pain, numbness, and restriction of movements.
Now depending on which area of the spine has disc degeneration, it will have some more specific symptoms. If there is a degenerated disc at the cervical spine, it will translate to neck pain and rigidity. You could also feel numbness and tingling in the fingers or even loss of strength, which is a red flag.
Now, if there is a degenerative disc in the lumbar spine, it’ll also lead to lower back pain and rigidity.
Degenerative disc disease symptoms can begin by different origins like disc herniation, bulging disc, and bony growths. Bulging discs causes mild pain or no symptoms at all since it isn’t big enough to compress the nerves. When these get bigger, the gel-like center of the disc can slip out through the surrounding tissue and press the surrounding nerves, turning it into a hernia. Bony growths are small bone formations that grow in nearby cartilage, making them more stiff and painful to move.
Degenerative disc pain is often worsened when the patient coughs, sneezes stand up, or sits down. The symptoms decrease when the person suffering from the disease lays down. This chronic pain’s most significant impact is on the patient’s lifestyle and mental health.
Every movement goes along with pain. Rarely a degenerated disc gets bad enough to cause some serious complications. Still, if they do get to weakness or even bowels and bladder issues, you should go to a doctor immediately.
What increases your risk for degenerative disc disease?
As we know, disc degeneration is a normal process of the body, but some factors worsen this condition:
- Heavy physical labor: Such as jobs in construction or athletes who do weights.
- Smoking: It makes the blood vessels smaller and decreases the blood flow to the discs. Since it is an area with already low blood flow, it increases inflammation and cellular death.
- Obesity: the extra weight causes the spine to take constantly more pressure than what it can handle, accelerating the disease.
- Bad posture: If the body has an inappropriate position, some areas of the spine take more stress than others, causing disc disease.
- Deficient physical activity: The spine also needs normal body movements and activity, if a person doesn’t follow that, it can speed up degenerative disc disease.
- Genetic factors: Gene mutations in the cells that produce the connective tissue could be a risk factor for disc degeneration. However, environmental factors are far more critical.
How do you slow down degenerative disc disease?
The good news is is that there are numerous ways in which degenerative disc disease can be slowed down. By only reducing the risks present in our daily life, a great deal can be made.
- Losing weight in obese patients is one of the most important actions made since it eases the burden on the spine.
- Stopping heavy physical labor for some people is almost impossible. Still, with assertive orientation, they can be done with lesser impact.
- Quitting smoking helps with disc disease and prevents heart and lung conditions, improving your life overall.
- Posture is an important thing to fix, especially if you already have degenerative disc disease. It should slow down damage and reduce pain.
How can you prevent degenerative disc disease from getting worse?
It will depend on the advance of the disease. If there’s only a slight stiffness and pain, you can treat it by applying cold and heat to the area. Rest is very important to prevent it from getting worse.
Going to physical therapy also helps the body to heal. When the pain doesn’t decrease with these methods or is a severer pain, you might have to take medication.
Nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or oral steroids can be taken for pain relief, although most times the symptoms reduce on their own with no medication.
How do you know you have a disc disease?
Disc disease diagnosis is made mostly by examination from a doctor, evaluating symptoms, and risk factors the patient has. In some cases where symptoms don’t decrease with simple treatments, doctors recur to imaging to make a more precise diagnosis.
With an MRI or a CT scan, it can be seen, for example, spinal stenosis in the spinal canal, which depending on the severity, could lead to surgery. Besides, they can show if other cartilage in the vertebra, like facet joints, faces degeneration. When patients have muscle spasms, a nerve conduction study shows if a nerve compressed in the spine is the cause.
What are your options if you have degenerative disc disease?
When none of the treatments that doctors prescribe to deal with pain and inflammation works, surgeries can be thought of. If a person who suffers from cervical degenerative disc disease begins to show leg weakness, surgery must be done. There are different kinds of surgical approaches a doctor can take to treat the disease, for example:
- Fusion surgery: Spinal fusion is when doctors join two or more vertebra together, impeding their movement. This is done by using bone grafts or non-natural bone replacements, which make the bones unite. Surgeons use screws or other implements to help the bone to heal together with the graft. This relieves pain by stopping the motion in that particular part of the spine.
- Disc replacement: In this surgery, an artificial disc replacement is put in place of the degenerative disc, getting rid of the pain. This only functions in some instances since other joints in the vertebra could have problems, which doesn’t resolve them.
- Spinal decompression: This is made by removing pieces of the vertebra that compresses the nerves. In the spinal canal exists something known as the lamina, a portion of the vertebra. Doctors remove it to allow more space for the nerves to pass through with less trouble. There is also a nonsurgical spinal decompression in which you lie in a bed that a specialist controls and stretches your back.
Are you having symptoms of it?
This tool is a degenerative disc disease symptoms checker. It gathers the most important symptoms, signs, and risk factors for developing this condition. Therefore, it will help anybody to find out the likelihood of having or developing in the near future this disease.