Degenerative disc is a common disease in adults over 50. The spine is composed of the seven cervical vertebrae, twelve thoracic vertebrae, five lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum. Between each of these vertebrae is an intervertebral disc. These discs help provide shock absorption, connect the vertebral bones and protect the spinal cord. As we age, these vertebrae are subject to wear and tear and can shrink. This decreases the distance between the vertebrae and results in degenerative disc disease.
What is a Degenerative Disc?
The intervertebral disc is composed of a thick outer layer and a thin inner layer. As we age, the outside layer can weaken and the protein and water content leak out. This compresses the vertebrae closer together and both layers of the disc become more susceptible to damage, including disc herniation.
The most common areas of the spine that are affected by degenerative disc are the neck (cervical spine) and the lower back (lumbar spine). This is due to the life-long weight-bearing activities and constant movement.
The Causes of Degenerative Disc
Degenerative disc disease is most commonly caused by age. As we age, the discs naturally lose water and flatten out. This makes them stiffer and more prone to tearing. Minor stress can then prevent the disc from returning to its normal shape and the outer layer of the disc will be stretched, causing the disc to decrease in size.
Although aging is a major factor in the formation of degenerative, there are several other contributing factors that can cause this earlier in life. These include heavy manual labor, improper lifting techniques, contact sports, severe trauma, genetics and others.
The Symptoms of a Degenerative Disc
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease vary in severity and location of pain, depending on which disc is affected along the spine. The symptoms can initially present itself as back or neck stiffness or pain.
The shrinking of the intervertebral space can also compress the nerves as they exit the spine and cause leg or arm pain. This pain can feel vary and may feel like a jolt or electric shock. Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs is also a possible symptom. It may also cause generalized weakness and decreased hand grip strength.
The symptoms of a degenerative disc may worsen with certain positions and can worsen with exercise and heavy lifting.
The Treatment of Degenerative Disc Disease
The first step in treating degenerative disc disease is the proper diagnosis. Imaging studies, such as an x-ray, is used to look at the spine and make the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease with a narrowed disc space. Generally, conservative treatment is tried before progressing to surgical options.
Talking to a chiropractor or physician is important in helping manage your pain and exercises. Your chiropractor can help design exercises and movements to encourage healing while limiting pain. Chiropractor spinal manipulation is also an effective treatment. If these treatments are unsuccessful, more invasive techniques are possible.
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