Degenerative Disc Disease
Nearly everyone’s spinal discs show signs of wear as they get older. But not everyone will have degenerative disc disease. While it is not actually a disease, this is a condition in which a damaged disc causes pain. A wide range of symptoms and severity is associated with this condition.
The discs act like shock absorbents between the bones of the spine and are designed to help the back stay flexible while resisting forces in many different planes of motion. Each disc has two parts:
- A firm, outer layer, the anulus fibrosus. The outer portion of this layer contains nerves. If the disc tears in this area, it can become very painful.
- A soft, squishy core, the nucleus pulposus. This part of the disc contains proteins that can cause the tissues they touch to swell and become tender. If these proteins leak out to the nerves of the outer layer of the disc, they can cause a great deal of pain.
Unlike other tissues of the body, the disc has very low blood supply. Once a disc is hurt, it cannot repair itself, and a spiral of degeneration can set in with three stages that appear to occur over 20 to 30 years:
- Acute pain makes normal movement of the back very hard
- The bone where the injury occurred becomes unstable. Over a long period of time, the patient will have back pain that comes and goes periodically.
- The body re-stabilizes the injured segment of the back. The patient experiences fewer bouts of back pain.
What causes degenerative disc disease?
Several factors can cause discs to degenerate, including age. Specific factors include:
- The drying out of the disc. When we are born, the disc is about 80 percent water. As we age, the disc dries out and does not absorb shocks as well.
- Daily activities and sports, which cause tears in the outer core of the disc. Around age 60, most people have some degree of disc degeneration. Not everyone at that age has back pain, however.
- Injuries, which can cause swelling, soreness and instability. This can result in low back pain.
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Minimally invasive procedures that may be considered when suffering from degenertive disc disease:
Total Disc Replacement
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Epidural Steroid Injection
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Spinal Cord Stimulator
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