Degenerative Disc Disease
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease per se but rather a term that’s often used to describe the typical changes that occur in your spinal discs as you naturally age. Essentially, spinal discs are compressible, soft discs that work to separate your vertebrae (interlocking bones) that make up your spine’s fundamental structure. These discs serve as literal shock absorbers for your spine, enabling it to twist, bend, and flex. Degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere along the spine, although it generally takes place in the lumbar (lower back) area along with the cervical (neck) area.
These Changes Within Your Discs can Lead to Back and/or Neck Pain or Any of the Following:
- Spinal stenosis – which is the narrowing of your spinal canal, the space that carries the spinal cord in your spine.
- A herniated disc, which is an irregular bulge or opening of a spinal disc.
- Osteoarthritis, which is the deterioration of cartilage (tissue) that serves to cushion and protect the joints.
Any one of these conditions can put undue pressure on your nerves and spinal cord, which can lead to subsequent pain and may potentially impact nerve function as well.
Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease
As you naturally age, your spinal discs start to deteriorate, or break down, and can lead to the condition in some individuals. Some of these age-associated changes may include the following:
- Small cracks or tears in the exterior layer (capsule or annulus) of your disc. The soft, jelly-like material within the nucleus of the disc may eventually squeeze out through the cracks or tears in the annulus, which makes the disc start bulging, rupture, and then split into multiple fragments.
- Fluid loss in the discs. This change decreases the discs’ ability to work effectively as shock absorbers in addition to making them much less flexible than before. Loss of fluid additionally causes the discs to thin out and also shortens the distance between each vertebra.
Overall, these changes in the spine are more likely to take place in individuals who perform strenuous physical labor (including repetitively lifting heavy objects) and in those who smoke. Overweight or obese individuals also have a higher chance of developing degenerative disc symptoms.
An acute, or sudden, injury resulting in a herniated disc (like falling down) could also trigger the process of degeneration. As the small spaces between each vertebra continue to narrow, the padding in-between them starts to diminish and makes the spine less stable overall. The body then responds to this by forming tiny bone growths known as osteophytes (bone spurs). Bone spurs are known to put excessive pressure on a patient’s spinal cord or spinal nerve roots, which leads to pain and potentially impacts nerve function.
V. K. Puppala, M.D. sees patients at his practice in Villa Rica, Georgia. He serves patients from all over the Metro Atlanta area. Dr. Puppala treats all his patients with great respect and empathy and is very concerned about their general health. Dr. Puppala takes an innovative approach to pain management in order for his patients to receive the best care possible. Call 770-627-7246 or 770-MAP-PAIN to schedule an appointment today.