Degenerative spinal discs — causes, symptoms and treatments

Degenerative discs are a common source of neck and back pain for many adults, occurring as a result of the natural age-related degeneration of spinal discs.

The spine is made of bones called vertebrae that support the upper body while protecting the spinal cord. In between the vertebrae are discs that cushion the vertebrae so the spine can bend and flex smoothly. These discs are filled with jellylike fluid to allow the proper height and space between the vertebrae, while still allowing some flexibility as the vertebrae bend and pivot.

Due to age-related loss of water and protein content, the elasticity of the discs can diminish, making them less able to withstand the stresses of everyday movement. Lifestyle factors like weight gain, injury and poor posture can add to the pressure being placed on the discs and cause them to degenerate faster. Degenerative discs are related to a number of spine conditions, including collapsed discs, bulging discs and herniated discs.

Symptoms of a degenerative disc

While disc degeneration is a common spine condition, not everyone knows they have it. In fact, many times a mildly damaged disc will heal on its own over time without symptoms or any indication that it is damaged.

Symptoms arise when a damaged disc compresses nervous tissue in the spine, including the spinal cord or a nerve root. If a disc becomes herniated and pushes into the spinal canal, for example, it can pinch or irritate the nearby nerves. Or, a thinning disc can cause the vertebrae to move closer together, narrowing the space in the spinal canal or one of the nerve root exits, called foramina.

When disc degeneration occurs, the patient can experience symptoms, which may include:

  • Intense, local back or neck pain
  • Traveling pain along the nerve
  • Muscle weakness, numbness and tingling of the extremities
  • The sensation of pins-and-needles
  • Sciatica
  • Stiffness or a loss of mobility and flexibility
  • Bone spur growth

Treatments for a degenerative disc

After the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease has been confirmed by your doctor, a treatment plan will be discussed to help reduce your symptoms. Many patients will begin with conservative treatments, such as chiropractic therapy, physical therapy and stretches to lengthen the spine and take pressure off the damaged disc to allow it to heal. Surgery can become an option if weeks or months of conservative treatment have not brought the relief necessary for a good quality of life.

If you are in this situation, reach out to Laser Spine Institute to learn about the benefits of our minimally invasive decompression and minimally invasive stabilization surgeries. Our procedures use muscle-sparing techniques, allowing for an outpatient procedure with a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open neck or back surgery.

We are happy to offer a no-cost MRI or CT scan review* to help you determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our outpatient procedures.