Degenerative disc disease, which is a normal part of ageing, is one of the most common causes of lower back pain and neck pain. As these sections of the spine are under the most tension and stress it puts them at more risk. In simple terms, this is neck and/or back pain that is caused by wear and tear of the spine that occurs as you age.
Despite the name, this is not a disease, rather just an age-related condition that can cause symptoms pain.
In some cases, degenerative disc disease can also cause weakness, numbness and shooting pain down the legs and/or arms. This pain will usually be chronic with short periods of more severe pain. There are two main causes of this of condition, including:
- Cartilage erosion – like other joints around the body, spinal vertebrae have a layer of cartilage in between them. As we get older this cartilage starts to degenerate, causing the disc space to collapse.
- Disc space degeneration – as the cartilage degenerates, the disc space will reduce. This can lead to additional strain and mobility on the spine that affects surrounding muscles.
When treating degenerative disc disease, the goal is to reduce the symptoms that the patient is experiencing. Most patients will be able to achieve this with the combination of both pain medication as well as regular exercise/physical therapy. Simple lifestyle change can really help with symptom control, this can include:
- Avoiding nicotine
- Avoiding alcohol
- Staying hydrated
- Avoiding sitting for prolonged periods
- Use supportive furniture
Unfortunately, these treatment options will not work for every patient. In these cases, the patient may need to be referred to a spinal surgeon to talk about the possible surgical options. For this condition the most common surgical option that is offered is a spinal decompression, however this may be coupled with a spinal fusion depending on the severity of symptoms.
This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.