The causes of degenerative disc disease can be narrowed down to one unavoidable event: aging. As the body gets older, the components of the intervertebral discs naturally begin to wear down. This is because the spine is involved in almost every movement the body makes, and the discs are responsible for cushioning the stacked vertebrae not only as you bend and twist, but also as you stand, walk, sit down and recline. Healthy discs contribute to spinal stability, so it logically follows that deteriorating discs contribute to spinal instability. The more advanced the disc deterioration, the more likely the spine is to experience a reduction of stability and the more likely a person is to experience neck pain, back pain or other symptoms often associated with degenerative disc disease.
Breaking down degenerative disc disease
With age-related deterioration established as one of the most prevalent degenerative disc disease causes, we can take a closer look at how disc deterioration occurs and how it can produce symptoms. It starts with knowing the two main components of a disc:
- Nucleus pulposus – This is the liquid center portion of the disc, composed primarily of gelatinous proteins and water. As the body ages, and as the disc is subjected to the stress and strain of movement, the nucleus can begin to lose water content.
- Annulus fibrosus – This is the cartilaginous, layered outer wall of the disc. As the nucleus loses water, the outer wall takes on more of the responsibility of supporting the adjacent vertebrae. The additional pressure this causes eventually takes a toll on the outer wall, which can begin to crack or tear.
Treating degenerative disc disease
While the causes of degenerative disc disease are not preventable, related symptoms –neck pain, back pain, tingling, muscle weakness, numbness, stiffness and inflammation – typically can be managed using conservative treatment methods. If symptoms persist after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our innovative, minimally invasive procedures used to address the symptoms of degenerative disc disease and several other common neck and back conditions.