Degenerative Disc Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

As You Age, Your Spinal Discs Start to Wear Down

As we have spoken about time and time again, your back is incredibly complex. It contains 33 bones, which are known as vertebrae, countless muscles, ligaments, and more. With so many parts needing to come together, a whole host of things can lead to injuries and chronic back pain. Whether you suffer an injury due to an accident, develop a painful disease, or suffer wear and tear from aging, back pain can and does occur. Lower back pain is one of the most common causes of chronic pain. However, upper back pain does occur and can be just as debilitating.

Your back is a crucial part of your body. After all, it has to support the majority of the body’s weight. As you can imagine, this places an immense amount of pressure on your spine. Over time, this pressure begins to wear away at the different parts of your spine, particularly the spinal discs. As these discs wear down, a condition known as degenerative disc disease emerges. Degenerative disc disease is the cause of many people’s back pain, and it is often hard to avoid. However, there are ways you can slow down the wear and tear of your spinal disc, as well as treat the condition.

Degenerative disc disease is one of the many causes of back pain. Because it is often the result of years of wear and tear, it’s vital that everyone understands this condition further. If you or a loved one suffers from this condition or any other form of chronic pain, contact Texas Partners Healthcare Group to learn what your options are.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

As the name suggests, degenerative disc disease occurs when the discs in your spine begin to degenerate due to years of wear and tear. This condition is not exactly a disease. It occurs when damaged or worn-down discs in your back cause pain. The discs in your spine act like shock absorbers between the vertebrae, absorbing the impact and weight of your body. These discs keep your back flexible while protecting against the stress put on your body.

No one is safe from this condition. Naturally, as you grow older and your body goes through more stress, the discs in your spine wear down or degenerate. They begin to wear away and do not function as well as they used to. While virtually everyone’s spinal discs break down, not everyone will experience pain. When your worn-down spinal discs lead to back pain, you have degenerative disc disease.

Causes

There are a few ways that this condition occurs. Your discs have a tough, outer layer, referred to as the annulus fibrosus, and a soft, jelly-like core, known as the nucleus pulposus. As you age, both the outer layer and inner core can change. Naturally, they begin to wear down. These changes are often degenerative disc disease causes, including:

  • Drying out: The younger you are, the more water your discs hold. Over time, they lose water and get thinner. As they lose their thickness, they can’t absorb as much shock from pressure as before, which means there is less cushioning and space to protect your vertebrae.
  • Cracking: Daily activities, such as sports and manual labor, can lead to cracking or tearing of the tough outer layer. The outer wall contains nerves, so any cracks near these nerves can cause pain. When the disc’s outer wall breaks down enough, the inner core pushes through, causing the disc to bulge, which is known as a herniated disc.
  • Injuries: Trauma can cause injuries that impact the discs in your back. These injuries can lead to swelling, soreness, and instability. These injuries can also cause cracking in the outer layer at a much earlier age.

Symptoms

As we said earlier, most people will experience some degree of disc degeneration. However, not everyone will experience pain. This pain means you have degenerative disc disease. Where you feel pain and the severity of this pain depend on the location of the damaged disk. Some common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Pain in the neck, back, buttocks, or upper thighs
  • Worse pain when sitting down, but improves when standing up and walking
  • Worse pain when lifting, bending, twisting, or other movements
  • Weakness or numbness in the arms and legs
  • Shooting pain down the arms and legs
  • Back stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain that comes and goes with periods of intense pain

We must note that the term degenerative does not mean that the symptoms get worse over time. In this instance, it refers to how the discs degenerate over time. Many cases involve low levels of pain with periods of severe pain. Additionally, the pain usually doesn’t worsen over time but does start to feel better as your body adjusts.

Treatment

Degenerative disc disease can cause many people to experience chronic pain. Most people will experience the symptoms above by the time they are 60 years old. Fortunately, there are many ways people can experience pain relief. The goal of degenerative disc disease treatment is to relieve pain, reduce symptoms, and prevent further damage. Based on your symptoms and how progressed the degeneration is, your doctor may recommend several treatment options. Some treatment options include:

  • Heat or Ice Therapy: Use a heating pad or ice pack to numb the area and reduce inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: Certain movements can improve the strength and flexibility in the muscles in your back and neck. Stretching can reduce muscle tension, while low-impact aerobic exercises can keep your joints and muscles active and boost circulation.
  • Pain Medication: Over-the-counter pain medications can help reduce inflammation, ease pain, and reduce swelling. However, this should not be the first option.
  • Injections: Steroid injections can also reduce pain. Your doctor will target the problem area, such as the damaged joint or disc, and give you an injection to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Surgery: If other treatment options prove to be ineffective, your doctor may recommend surgery as a final option. Some surgeries can remove the damaged part of the disc or replace it with an artificial disc. Regardless, this should be the final option.

These are just a handful of treatment options offered at our Frisco pain management clinic. The team at Texas Partners Healthcare Group understands how debilitating this chronic pain condition can be, which is why we are committed to pinpointing the exact cause of your pain and creating an effective treatment plan for you. Our providers are here for you. Contact our pain management clinic to learn what your options are.