Degenerative disc disease is a condition that weakens of one or more vertebral discs which normally act as a cushion between the vertebrae. This can occur anywhere along the spine and affects more than three million Americans per year. Degenerative disc disease can develop as a natural part of the aging process but may also result from an injury to the back or neck.
Typically, this condition occurs when small tears appear in the disc wall called the annulus. Tears in the lamellae are referred to as annular tears, more often called a “torn disc.” As the disc degenerates, it starts to lose many of its properties that make it an effective shock absorber.
There may be no symptoms present for degenerative disc disease. In some people, annular tears can cause pain and spasms. Just like other tissues in our bodies, the disc heals over several weeks by creating scar tissue however scar tissue is not as strong as the original disc wall.
Over time, with repeated neck or back injuries, the process of tearing and scarring may weaken the disc wall. As people age, the center of the disc becomes damaged and loses water content. Fluid is needed to keep the disc functioning as a shock absorber and, without it, the nucleus collapses and the vertebrae above and below the damaged disc slide closer together. This improper alignment causes the facet joints (the areas where the vertebrae touch) to twist due to an unnatural position. In time, the incorrect positioning of the vertebrae can lead to bone spurs or osteophytes.
If bone spurs grow into the spinal canal, they may pinch the spinal cord and nerves and cause a condition called spinal stenosis. If the outer annulus tears and a piece of the center moves through the tear, a disc herniation can pinch the spinal cord and nerves causing pain, numbness, and/or tingling.
No matter the cause, getting back pain under control requires exercise to increase the strength and flexibility of muscles that surround the spine. Exercise increases blood flow to the back, which nourishes joints and muscles with oxygen and nutrients while clearing away inflammatory waste products.
Treatment options to go along with exercises to increase back strength include:
If you suspect disc degeneration anywhere in your spine, or you have ongoing back pain, contact our spine specialists in northern Utah today.