Spine degeneration may also be called degenerative disc disease or DDD, but this name is a misnomer. DDD is actually not a disease, but rather an ongoing process that occurs in every body as it grows older. With age, intervertebral discs naturally degenerate, resulting in increased susceptibility to injury. There is a clear correlation between growing older and spine degeneration due to two main causes – dehydration and loss of flexibility. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, at birth, the human body is 90 percent water; during adulthood, it is 70 percent water; and by age 90, it is about 50 percent water. Additionally, elastin, a protein that gives tissues the ability to stretch, undergoes some chemical changes over time. As people age, their elastin becomes less flexible via a process called cross-linking.
So, how does spine degeneration show itself in the intervertebral discs? Discs consist of two main components, an outer fibro-elastic containment rim and an inner soft gelatinous core. When axial loading pressure occurs along the spinal column, the central gelatinous core of each disc squeezes outward against the fibro-elastic containment rim of the disc. The elastic recoil of the containment wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, re-establishing the height and shape of the disc. As a person ages, even normal, daily activities cause repeated loading of the disc. With this repeated stress, small tears may develop in the fibers of the fibro-elastic outer containment wall. This causes some loss of the disc’s outer containment wall elasticity or recoil. The outer disc containment wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer containment wall sags, and is said to bulge or collapse, leading to spine degeneration.
Although spine degeneration is a normal consequence of aging, it affects every patient differently, with the severity and location varying widely from individual and individual. For example, in some people, the degeneration will be completely asymptomatic. Yet, in others, spine degeneration leads to a variety of early-onset debilitating symptoms in the neck, back, arms and legs.
- Local, chronic neck or back pain
- Radiating pain along the nerve root into the extremities
- Muscle weakness
- Stiffness or soreness
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Bladder and bowel incontinence and severe weakness in extreme, emergency cases
People who are experiencing the symptoms associated with spine degeneration can normally find some relief by performing specific exercises and utilizing heat packs, along with taking some anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications. However, not every spine degeneration patient will respond to non-surgical treatments, so there are surgical options available for these more severe cases. In these circumstances, the reasonable course of action is to determine the least invasive, most effective surgical treatment possible. Please investigate the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. Our procedures require shorter recovery times and fewer risks than traditional open spine surgeries of all types. Contact us today for a review of your MRI or CT scan, and to receive more information about our facilities.