What Are The Causes Of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition in which worn down discs in the spinal column begin to cause pain. The term degenerative itself refers to the normal break-down of the spinal discs that naturally occurs over time as people age and grow older. Research shows that by the age of 60, nearly 90% of people will display evidence of some spinal disc degeneration. Although the degeneration from the wear and tear of our spinal discs is normal, any pain associated with it is not, and while not necessarily a disease, the term degenerative disc disease is when a damaged disc causes pain in the back or in the neck.
The discs in our spinal column serve as a type of shock absorber between the bones (or vertebrae) of the spine. They are meant to help keep your back flexible so that you are able to twist and bend your spine while also cushioning against any forces that may be exerted on it. Unlike other tissues in the body, spinal discs (also known as intervertebral discs) have no blood supply. This means that once they are damaged, they can not repair themselves. Do not worry, though, later we will discuss other options that will help treat and manage the pain that is associated with this condition.
Normal aging is often the cause for degenerative disc disease. Over the age of 50, you are much more likely to get DDD. When we are born, our spinal discs are made out of 80% water. As we age, they dry out and become flatter. These flatter discs don’t perform as well, and therefore they are unable to absorb as much shock as they previously were. This also means less cushion and padding between the vertebrae, which can lead to other problems in the spine that may end up causing pain.
Each intervertebral disc consists of two parts; the innermost layer, the nucleus pulposus, and the tough outer layer, the annulus fibrosis. The nucleus pulposus is a gel like substance that contains a loose network of fibers, and it is what dries out over time. Another cause of degenerative disc disease occurs with damage to the tough and fibrous outer layer, the annulus fibrosis. This layer is made up of sheets of collagen fibers and contains nerves that can become very painful when any area near them is torn, cracked, or damaged.
A crack or tear in the outer layer very commonly occurs with daily activities, sports, or anything that requires some sort of mechanical movement in the spine. As we mentioned earlier, the wear and tear of our spinal discs is very normal, but most people do not experience any pain. It is always wise to seek medical advice if you are experiencing anything out of the ordinary.
Additionally, a crack or tear in the annulus fibrosis can also lead to some of the gelatinous substance inside the nucleus pulposus to leak out. The nucleus pulposus contains proteins that can cause tissues to become swollen, inflamed, and very tender. When these proteins leak out and come into contact with the nerves located in the outer layer, it can become very uncomfortable and cause a great deal of pain. This can also occur from daily activity and sports.
Aside from daily activities, wear and tear, and the normal aging process, injuries can also cause degenerative disc disease. Things like car crashes, slip and falls, and work related injuries have also been known to cause DDD. This is because of the trauma that may have been placed on the spine during the injury. Trauma can cause inflammation and severely limit range of motion. This can lead to the breakdown of the spinal discs, ultimately causing pain.
Another reason why someone may experience degenerative disk disease is because of being overweight or obese. When people are overweight, extra pressure is being put on the spine, which can lead to the bones in the spine rubbing together and cause them to deteriorate quicker. Degenerative disc disease can be very painful and it is associated with several symptoms, such as;
- Pain that gets worse when sitting. When sitting, the discs in the lower back have around 3 times as much pressure being put on them versus while standing up.
- Pain that feels worse when bending, twisting, or lifting.
- Pain that feels better while walking or running.
- Pain that comes and goes. It can range from very severe to nagging and last for a few days or months before feeling better.
- Pain in the lower back, buttocks, upper thighs, or neck. Depending on where the disc is, it can also radiate out to your arms and your hands.
- Tingling or numbness in the extremities or limbs.
- Pain that gets better when you change positions or lie down.
There are several treatments to consider if you believe you may be experiencing pain due to DDD. However, most diagnosis will require some sort of examination of the affected area in order to determine the best course of action. Most treatments focus on the strengthening of muscles that support the back and relieving any symptoms. Physical therapy is usually the preferred option when treating symptoms associated with degenerative disc disease. Other treatments include injections of corticosteroids into the disc, anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) or pain relievers (acetaminophen), and surgery may be required in some cases. Other self care options might include heat and ice therapy, maintaining a healthy weight, and modifying activities that may aggravate your back.
If you believe you are experiencing back pain because of degenerative disc disease, then we are here to help! Here at Thrive Chiropractic, we have the knowledge and the expertise in order to help properly diagnose and treat this painful condition. We also know how debilitating and life altering back pain can be. Back pain is the leading cause of disability in our country. Every day, more than 700,000 Americans miss work because of back pain. If you are one of them, please reach out to us today so we can help get you back on your feet.