How age affects degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is the breakdown of the rubbery discs positioned between the vertebrae in the spine. Despite the alarming name, this is a naturally occurring, age-related condition that is both common and very treatable.

Disc changes over the years

Dealing with an aging body is a fact of life, and this is definitely true of the spine. When you age, the parts of the spine begin to break down. This is mostly because of wear from a lifetime of normal activity, even from something as simple as walking your dog.

When the discs that cushion the spine — allowing for movement and flexibility — deteriorate, it can lead to a range of conditions which cause pain and discomfort. Due to a combination of repeated movement, declining circulation and lifestyle factors, the discs dry out and lose flexibility. This can cause the tough outer layer of the disc, which holds in the softer core, to lose its shape. When this happens, the vertebrae will compress against each other, limiting movement and creating additional strain on the already deteriorated discs.

While this process happens to everyone to some degree, degenerative disc disease is only diagnosed when painful symptoms occur. If a damaged disc is displaced enough to interfere with the spinal cord or a nerve root exiting the spine, it can cause pain — both local and radiating to different areas of the body.

DDD is a general disorder closely related to more specific degenerative conditions in the spine. Some of the related problems that result from degenerative disc disease include:

  • Bulging discs
  • Herniated discs
  • Spinal Stenosis

What to do

These changes can begin to occur as early as our 20s, but generally don’t begin to affect people until their 40s or older. In most cases, symptoms don’t ever occur. If you are experiencing pain, and your doctor has diagnosed you with degenerative disc disease, the first step is usually a course of conservative treatments. Nonsurgical therapies prescribed by doctors include hot and cold compresses, over-the-counter pain medication and exercises, and can be extremely effective at relieving symptoms.

If weeks or months of these treatments have not brought relief, the minimally invasive spine surgery offered at Laser Spine Institute may help you find relief from neck and back pain without the need of traditional open spine surgery. Many cases of degenerative disc disease can be treated by removing a small piece of the damaged disc using our minimally invasive decompression surgery. For cases of severe disc degeneration where a spinal fusion has been recommended, our minimally invasive stabilization procedures reduce the risk of traditional spine fusion by simply replacing the damaged disc with an artificial one to support the spine.

Contact Laser Spine Institute for more information, and to receive a review of your MRI report or CT scan.