Degenerative disc disease: overview of primary causes

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) commonly causes neck and back pain as well as other debilitating symptoms that can seriously interfere with your life. DDD describes the breakdown of the rubbery discs that cushion the vertebrae in the spinal column that can lead to a number of related conditions and issues.

Whether you have been diagnosed with this condition or are trying to prevent its development, learning more about DDD and its underlying causes can be extremely beneficial to the health of your spine. We hope the following information can help you become more engaged as a patient and have a better understanding of the conditions that can affect your spine.

How aging causes degenerative disc disease

As we age, our bodies undergo many natural changes. This especially includes the spine due to its intricate construction and the amount of pressure it must withstand from moving and supporting the upper body. Helping to absorb much of this stress on the spine are rubbery discs, which are composed of a soft nucleus surrounded by a tougher outer layer. When pressure is placed on the spinal column, the center of the disc squeezes outward against the outer layer. To reestablish the normal height and shape of the disc, the elasticity of the outer layer pushes the core back into place.

As a person ages, loss of water and protein content combined with years of repeated loading of the disc can cause the development of small tears and an overall loss of elasticity. These natural changes make the discs less able to perform their normal function and more likely to begin to lose height, bulge out into the spinal column or develop larger tears and ruptures related to DDD.

Other contributing factors

Several factors influence the speed at which age-related degenerative disc disease changes occur. Some of these other contributors include:

  • Genetics
  • Disease and infection
  • Traumatic injury
  • Overuse through high-impact sports or repetitive bending and lifting
  • Poor posture
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Using tobacco products

Aging and many of the other 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, practicing good posture and lifting technique to avoid injury and quitting smoking, if necessary, can slow the deterioration of the spinal discs.

Treatment options for degenerative disc disease

Upon diagnosing DDD as the source of neck or lower back pain, most doctors will begin with a course of conservative treatment options, such as physical therapy or medication, to relieve symptoms. Surgery is usually presented as an option if symptoms do not improve, or worsen, after weeks or months of attempting a nonsurgical approach.

Patients considering surgery for DDD should reach out to the caring and dedicated team at Laser Spine Institute to learn about the advantages of our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery. By using muscle-sparing techniques we are able to offer patients less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time^ compared to traditional open neck or back procedures.

To learn more contact us today. We’re pleased to offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.