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Degenerative disc disease is when normal changes take place in the discs of your spine, due to aging and movement, which cause you pain. The discs are the material that sits between the individual bones making up the vertebrae in the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers and cushions for the bones. The discs are similar to a jelly donut, with a soft center surrounded by a tough, protective exterior. When herniated, some of the “jelly” will protrude through a tear in the exterior, resulting in extreme chronic pain or discomfort.
Pain is the primary symptom of degenerative disc disease. The common signs of this disease include pain that:
The causes for degenerative disc disease include:
Drying out. Discs are primarily made of water, so as they lose water and thin out due to age, they become more susceptible to injury because they cannot absorb the shocks as well. Having less cushion between the vertebrae can cause pain.
Cracking. Everyday movement can place stress on the discs and cause them to crack. Any tear near the nerves can be especially painful. After cracking, the disc may bulge, or slip out of place, which is called a slipped or herniated disc. It can affect nearby nerves.
Although degenerative disc disease cannot be prevented entirely, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent the condition from leaving you feeling completely debilitated. These include:
To diagnose degenerative disc disease, your Adena Health Spine specialist will discuss your medical history and symptoms with you. Questions to expect include:
After that, looking at your lower back and asking you to walk or perform other movements is typically enough for making a diagnosis. Imaging tests like x-rays or CT scans can confirm the diagnosis and help determine the exact cause.
For most people, the symptoms of degenerative disc disease can be managed with medications, physical therapy, or a combination. Treatment options include:
In certain cases, degenerative disc disease surgery may be recommended. This procedure is called a discectomy, and it involves removing the injured part of the disc entirely.