Exploring Degenerative Disc Disease Causes
Degenerative disc disease causes will vary from patient to patient. The condition is frequently confused with the normal aging process, as gradual degenerative changes in the spine are commonly diagnosed in individuals in their 50s or 60s. However, degenerative disc disease is marked by an earlier onset of degeneration, as well as a more rapid degeneration, of the intervertebral discs. It can affect some individuals much earlier in life as a result of weight gain, genetic predisposition to spinal conditions, too little or too much activity, and poor lifestyle habits.
These factors could all contribute to the deterioration of the intervertebral discs in the spine, which are the spongy, shock-absorbing pads that lie between vertebrae. The degenerative process typically involves disc dehydration, which weakens a disc's outer wall (annulus fibrosus). If the wall is weak enough, the disc's inner gel-like core (nucleus pulposus) can push against it and may cause the disc to bulge or tear. In either case, the damaged disc may cause symptoms (focal pain and radiating pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling) if bulging or extruded disc material happens to compress the spinal cord or a nerve root. In the case of a herniated disc, the disc itself could be painful, particularly if the tiny nerves that feed into the outer wall are damaged or irritated.
Taking Care of Your Spine
Degenerative disc disease can develop for a number of reasons and may not be completely preventable, but there are steps you can take to keep your spine healthy and functioning properly. For example, maintaining proper posture when sitting, standing, and even sleeping can help to keep your vertebrae aligned, which reduces the stress placed on the intervertebral discs, facet joints, and the back's supportive muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Maintaining a healthy weight and strengthening core muscles can provide the same stress-reducing benefits for the spine. Itâ€™s also important to avoid tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake, as these can inhibit proper blood circulation throughout the body and lead to accelerated intervertebral disc degeneration.
If such precautions are unable to stave off the development of degenerative disc disease, your doctor may suggest a course of conservative (nonsurgical) treatments, such as physical therapy, pain medication, heat and/or cold therapies, low-impact exercise, and behavior modification. In most cases, these methods are able to alleviate symptoms over the course of several weeks or months, so surgery is seldom required as a treatment. Surgical procedures are typically reserved for patients whose symptoms persist despite extensive conservative treatment.