What Causes Disc Degeneration?

Getting up from the couch and walking to the kitchen for a glass of water seems like such a simple and easy thing. But mobility has its price. Everytime you stand, walk, twist, or bend, you place stress on all of your joints.

Like the wearing away of the cartilage that causes osteoarthritis, disc degeneration is a normal part of the aging process. Here at Orthopedic & Wellness, our experienced physicians — Dr. Ojedapo‌ ‌Ojeyemi ‌and‌ ‌Dr. Matthew Roh — specialize in diagnosing and treating back pain and neck pain related to disc degeneration.

Though disc degeneration doesn’t always cause problems, it may be the underlying cause of your pain. Here, we explain what causes disc degeneration and how we can help.

About those discs

Each of the 33 bones that make up your spine is separated by an intervertebral disc. These flat, rounded cushions serve as shock absorbers to reduce stress and strain on the small bones and connective tissue in your spine.

Each disc has a soft, gel-like center (nucleus pulposus) surrounded by a tough outer layer (annulus fibrosus). The intervertebral discs keep your spine flexible and stable. 

What causes disc degeneration?

Disc degeneration is a normal part of the aging process. However, there are conditions unique to intervertebral discs that make them more susceptible to age-related wearing. 

Unlike other body parts, your intervertebral discs don’t get an adequate supply of blood. So when you have a disc injury, such as a herniated disc, your body can’t heal the damage. 

In addition to not being able to heal an injury, poor circulation to the discs also limits fluid supply. At birth, your discs are made up of about 80% water. As you get older, these discs lose water, shrink, and dry out, decreasing their shock-absorbing abilities. Dry, shriveled discs are also more vulnerable to developing cracks in the tough exterior that leads to herniation. 

Signs and symptoms of disc degeneration

Disc degeneration affects almost everyone as they get older, but not everyone develops signs and symptoms. It’s not unusual for older adults to find out they have disc degeneration after undergoing an imaging test for some other health issue. 

However, many patients with disc degeneration do experience problems. Common signs and symptoms of disc degeneration include:

If you have these symptoms, you may have degenerative disc disease. 

Treatment for disc degeneration 

If you don’t have any troublesome symptoms, you don’t need any special treatment for degenerating discs. However, we may recommend physical therapy to improve muscle spinal support in order to prevent further deterioration of your discs. Weight loss may also help.

But if you have degenerative disc disease and your symptoms affect your daily life, we may take a more aggressive approach to help you get relief from your pain. Some pain management treatments we may recommend include:

If these pain management options fail to provide long-term relief, we may suggest minimally invasive spine surgery. Various surgical options can repair or replace your damaged discs or reduce spine mobility to alleviate your pain.

While you may be at greater risk of developing back pain as you get older, you don’t have to suffer with the pain. We offer many treatment options. Call our office — we have three convenient locations, in Frederick, Waldorf, or Germantown, Maryland — or book a consultation online today.

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