As we grow older, several changes occur throughout our bodies, including in the neck, back and spine. Intervertebral discs are natural shock absorbers between the boney vertebrae. 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. The elastic recoil of the containment wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, reestablishing the height and shape of the disc. As a person ages, natural daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc. Tiny 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. The outer disc containment wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer containment wall sags, and is said to bulge or collapse.
The individual vertebrae in the vertebral column are connected at the intervertebral discs and at the posteriorly located facet joints. Changes in the vertical height of intervertebral discaffects the alignment of these facet joints. When intervertebral discs lose height, facet joints cannot move properly. This causes cartilage within the facet joints to break down prematurely. Inflammation stimulates new bone deposition. Osteophytes, or bone spurs, develop. Bone spurs may impinge upon nerves in the spinal canal or intervertebral foramina causing pain and disability.
This color enhanced sagital (lateral) MRI image of the cervical spine shows severe multilevel degenerative changes of the spine with spinal cord compression.
Several factors influence the speed at which degenerative changes occur. Genetics, infection, concomitant disease, trauma, over-use, body weight and other factors all influence the rate of degenerative changes and their significance.
Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of lower back pain, otherwise known as lumbago. Aging and degenerative disc disease cannot be prevented but its course can be modified. The best way to prevent the consequences this condition is to take good care of the body. Lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, using protective gear to avoiding neck and back injury, sticking to a nutritious diet, and smoking cessation can forestall 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 complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan.