Degenerative disc disease is the term for the normal changes that happen in your spinal discs as you age. It is not truly a disease, but more a normal part of aging. Spinal discs are made of soft compressible material that helps separate the vertebrae that make up the spine, as well as allow it to bend, twist, and flex. Although degenerative disc disease can happen throughout the spine, it is most often seen in the discs located in the lower back and neck. Changes in these discs can end up in problematic back or neck pain, and could even affect nerve function.
There are many reasons for the break down of spinal discs. As you age, you lose fluid in the discs, which reduces their ability to absorb shock and also lessens their flexibility. This also makes the disc itself thinner and thus narrows the distance between the vertebrae. Another condition happens in which tiny tear or cracks form within the discs. This causes the substance inside the disc to be forced out through the cracks, which in turn causes the disc to rupture or break into tiny painful fragments. Another way that degenerative disc disease can occur is when a sudden injury, like a fall, leads to a herniated disc.
To help relieve the pain of degenerative, ice or heat can be used as therapy on the affected area. Pain relieving medicine such as Tylenol can be very useful in helping to manage pain. If your pain is severe, your doctor can prescribe stronger medicine. Other treatments may be eventually needed if health problems like herniated discs, spinal stenosis, or osteoarthritis, you may find that other treatments are necessary. Physical theraphy and exercises for strengthening and stretching the back are very helpful for people with this degenerative disc disease.
Although degenerative disc disease does not often require surgery, in more severe cases it may be needed. In surgery, the damaged disc is removed. Sometimes after this the bone will be permanently fused in order to help protect the spinal cord, and in some very rare cases, the disc that is removed is replaced by an artificial disc.
How to Prevent it
Degenerative disc disease is mainly a part of the natural aging process, and cannot be prevented in every case. However, by making lifestyle changes like moderately exercising daily, eating nourishing food, and staying hydrated, you can help prevent the disabling and painful symptoms caused by it. It is also important to remember to practice good posture, which includes using correct lifting techniques, not staying in one position for long periods of time, and sleeping on a mattress that is suited to your support needs. Avoiding smoking and overall reducing alcohol consumption will also help you heal faster. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.
What are the consequences of not treating it?
Not treating degenerative disc disease can result in more pain, and less ability to move around. It is important to take care of the existing condition to ensure mobility and quality as you age.