What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease in the Neck and Back?

Degenerative disc disease frequently causes lower back pain, otherwise known as lumbago. This condition is one of the most common and can arise due to a variety of factors, including sudden trauma, but the most common reason for developing degenerative disc disease is simply growing older.

As we age, many areas of our bodies undergo changes, including notable differences in the neck, back and spine. Intervertebral discs serve as natural shock absorbers between the bony vertebrae of the spine. These discs have two main components, an outer fibro-elastic containment rim and an inner soft gelatinous core. When axial loading pressure occurs along the spinal column, the central gelatinous core of the disc squeezes outward against the fibro-elastic containment rim of the disc. To reestablish the normal height and shape of the disc, the containment wall’s elasticity pushes the inner gelatinous core back into place. As a person ages, normal daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc. Small tears may develop in the fibers of the fibro-elastic outer containment wall. This causes some loss of the disc’s outer containment wall elasticity or recoil, making it less effective at pushing the central core material back into shape. The outer containment wall sags, and is said to bulge or collapse.

Intervertebral discs, along with posteriorly located facet joints, connect the individual vertebrae of the spinal column. As these discs change in height, it affects the alignment of the facet joints, and when intervertebral discs lose height, the facet joints cannot move properly. This causes cartilage within the facet joints to degrade prematurely. Inflammation stimulates new bone growth, causing osteophytes, or bone spurs, to develop. These bone spurs may impinge upon nerves in the spinal canal or intervertebral foramina, causing pain and other complications as part of degenerative disc disease.

Several factors influence the speed at which degenerative disc disease causes changes occur. Genetics, infection, concomitant disease, trauma, over-use, body weight and other factors all influence the rate of degenerative changes and their significance.

Aging and the causes of degenerative disc disease cannot be prevented, but its course can be altered. The best way to avoid the consequences of this condition is to take good care of the body. Making beneficial lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, using protective gear to avoid neck and back injury, sticking to a nutritious diet and smoking cessation can slow the deterioration of the spine. For answers to specific questions about individual cases, and to learn how the procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute may be used in their treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute. In addition to answering your questions, we also can provide you with a review of your MRI or CT scan.