Degenerative Disc Disease Q & A
What is degenerative disc disease?
The vertebrae, or bones, in your spine are supported and cushioned by discs. These discs act as shock absorbers, protecting your vertebrae as you bend, twist, lift heavy objects, and generally put a strain on your back.
As your body ages, your discs begin to break down. For some people, this wear and tear is largely unnoticeable. But for others, it can cause a great deal of pain. Back pain that’s caused by worn-out spinal discs is called degenerative disc disease.
Despite its name, degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease. It’s a progressive condition that simply causes pain in some and not in others.
What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease largely causes pain in the lower back, buttocks, or upper thighs, though you might also experience a sharp and constant pain in your neck. The pain can vary widely in severity and can come and go in as little as a few days or as long as a few months.
Frequently, the pain worsens when you sit, bend, twist, or lift, and gets better when you walk around or lie down.
In some cases, the damaged disc can affect the nerves near the spine, which can lead to tingling and numbers in the arms and legs, or weakened leg muscles.
What causes degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease is caused by the aging of your spinal discs. When you’re born, your discs are primarily composed of water, and that water evaporates over time. As your discs dry out, they become thinner and less capable of absorbing shock and cushioning the vertebrae, leaving them susceptible to damage and pain.
General wear and tear also leads to degenerative disc disease. Your spinal discs absorb a lot of stress through sports, repetitive activities, or just the normal functioning of your body. Over time, that stress leads to small tears in the disc’s outer walls, which breaks down the disc.
How is degenerative disc disease treated?
A combination of physical therapy and pain medication can offer long-term relief from symptoms caused by degenerative disc disease.
Through specific physical therapy, you can develop the muscles in your neck and back to better support your spine, which alleviates the pain and improves your posture, flexibility, and mobility.