Those suffering from neck or back pain that is not due to a ligament sprain or muscle strain, may have some form of degenerative disc disease. Knowing the causes of degenerative disc disease and what symptoms it may produce will help you enter into a dialogue with your physician about effective treatment plans. The condition is primarily caused by the natural aging process because years of constant movement take their toll on the spinal anatomy, though it can be exacerbated by overexertion, an illness, smoking, obesity, or a sudden injury.
The anatomy of degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease is characterized by the gradual breakdown of the intervertebral discs that separate adjacent vertebrae. These discs contribute to spinal flexibility and articulation, but they primarily serve as shock absorbers for the vertebrae and help in the protection of the spinal cord. Over time, these discs can lose height, water content, and elasticity, rendering them especially prone to damage. Degenerative disc disease can lead to any of the following conditions, all of which run the risk of painfully compressing nearby spinal nerves:
- Herniated discs
- Bulging discs
- Disc protrusions
- Bone spurs
- Spinal stenosis
Can degenerative disc disease be prevented?
Because degenerative disc disease occurs as part of the aging process, it cannot be completely prevented. However, there are ways to ensure that you maintain strong bones and a healthy spine so that you can slow the disease’s progression. Engage in daily, low-impact exercises and try to maintain a healthy body weight by eating foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat. Calcium-rich foods will keep your bones strong and fend off osteoporosis, while foods high in omega-3 fatty acids will help keep the cartilaginous aspects of your spine lubricated. Please be advised that you should never begin any regimen of diet or exercise without a physician’s supervision.