Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease, but a term used to describe the normal changes that occur in the vertebral discs as we get older. The vertebral discs act as shock absorbers to the spine, allowing it to bend and rotate.
When the degenerative disc disease appears, the passage openings of the nerves of the spine narrow and do not cushion the impacts, especially when running or jumping. On the other hand, most of the time it occurs in the discs of the lumbar and cervical area.
What Is The Cause Of The Degenerative Disc Disease?
As we age, the vertebral discs deteriorate, which can lead to degenerative disc disease in some people. Some of the changes due to age are:
- Loss of liquid in the discs: this causes the discs to lose the capacity to act as shock absorbers. Also, it also decreases the thickness of the disc and the distance between the vertebrae.
- Cracks in the outer layer of the disc: resulting in the gelatinous material of the disc can come out and cause the disc to rupture.
These changes are more likely to be suffered by smokers, obese people and heavy physical workers. Similarly, wear and tear, incorrect posture and incorrect body movements can also weaken the disc and cause degeneration.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
This disease can cause neck or back pain, depending on the location of the damaged discs. However, if the affected disc is in the neck, it can cause pain in the neck or arm. While, if the affected disc is in the back, the pain can appear in the back, the gluteus or the legs.
Often, the pain gets worse when you perform movements such as bending, stretching or turning. It can also appear after an injury, even after performing a normal movement such as bending to lift an object. In other cases, it is possible to feel tingling and numbness in one leg or arm.
Disc degeneration is, in fact, a natural part of aging and, over time, all people will have changes in their discs depending on the greater or lesser degree of wear.
However, not all people will develop symptoms. In fact, degenerative disc disease is quite variable in nature and severity.
Diagnosis Of The Disease
This disease is diagnosed through a physical examination and questions about symptoms, injuries, diseases, habits, and activities performed. In the physical examination, the doctor assesses the amplitude of the movement of the affected area and if there is a pain due to the movement.
The specialist will also look for areas of sensitivity and changes related to nerves such as tingling, numbness or weakness in the affected area. In turn, check if there are other conditions such as fractures, tumors, and infections.
The imaging is used when:
- Symptoms after an injury.
- Suspected damage to the nerves.
- Other conditions that can affect the spine.
What is The Treatment?
To relieve the pain you can apply cold or heat as you feel better in the affected area. In addition, the doctor will prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or naproxen. In case of need, the doctor can recommend more powerful medications.
The pharmacological treatment can be complemented with physiotherapy and exercises to strengthen and stretch the back. In some cases, it may be necessary to resort to surgery. In general, surgery involves removing the damaged disc. However, in some cases, the bone is attached permanently to protect the spinal cord.
If the health problem consists of a herniated disk, osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis, most likely it requires other treatments.