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Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of back and neck pain, affecting more than 3 million people in the US per year.
The condition is most common among people under the age of 60, and occurs when spinal discs naturally lose their density over time.
Discs are the spongy structures found between each of your spinal vertebrae, made up of two layers; a fibrous outer layer (fibrous ring) and a gel-filled core (central pulp).
When your spinal discs start to wear down, they are unable to properly absorb shock to the spine, and begin to lose flexibility, which can cause pain over time.
When we age, there are changes that naturally occur in our spine, including the wearing down of the discs in between our vertebrae. These changes can include a loss of disc fluid in the inner layer of the disc, which causes the discs to thin out and become less flexible; sometimes there is weakening of the outer layer of the discs, which can lead to disc “leakage” and herniated discs.
This can make movement of the spine more difficult and painful. People who are obese, people who smoke, and people who perform strenuous activity (with heavy, repetitive lifting) are more prone to degenerative disc disease.
Your symptoms can vary, but those who suffer from degenerative disc disease typically experience:
If you are experiencing chronic or worsening symptoms, consider scheduling an appointment with Q Spine Institute.
It’s important to keep a record of the kind of pain you’re experiencing, because your diagnosis will be based on a discussion of your symptoms, a physical exam, and comprehensive medical history review.
Dr. Q and his team will also want to know if you have a family history of the disease, or if you’ve experienced any recent trauma or injury.
Treatment of degenerative disc disease is usually handled conservatively at the Q Spine Institute. Cold and hot therapies (like ice packs or a heating pad), along with pain relievers can help with pain symptoms. Activities like stretching may also alleviate pain.
Degenerative disc disease can cause other conditions to arise – conditions like disc herniation or spinal stenosis. If the condition worsens or develops further, you may require other treatment for relief. Consult with your doctor or make an appointment with Q Spine Institute to determine the right course of treatment for you.
It is worth noting that the pain from degenerative disc disease may lessen over time, because much of the nerve-related pain is caused by inflammatory proteins. Once these proteins are “burned out,” patients may experience relief from the pain. Because the spine naturally ages and weakens, however, it is important to continue to treat any pain symptoms, especially because the disease can cause other spine conditions.
Experiencing back or neck pain? Use our pain assessment tool to determine possible treatments for chronic or worsening symptoms.