As we get older, we face an inevitable process where our joints begin to wear out. In our spines, the soft disks between your vertebrae begin to dry out and shrink. This condition narrows the space between the vertebrae, which makes the spine less stable and decreases its flexibility. A degenerative disk does not always cause symptoms and varies widely in nature and severity.
This wear and tear may be a combination of factors, such as doing a lot of lifting, having a family history of spine problems, or injuring the spine. It can be a form of arthritis, where the cartilage in the spine joints begins to wear out. Regardless of the cause, it is well known that arthritis of the spine often gets worse with increasing maturity.
Degenerative disc disease is not a disease but a term used to describe the normal progressive deterioration of spinal discs and arthritic changes in facet joints due to wear and tear with aging. It can occur throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region).
The changes in the discs can result in back or neck pain and possibly:
- Osteoarthritis, the breakdown of the tissue (cartilage) that protects and cushions joints.
- Herniated disc, an abnormal bulge or breaking open of a spinal disc.
- Spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal, the open space in the spine that holds the spinal cord.
These conditions may pressure the spinal cord and nerves, leading to pain and possibly affecting nerve function.
The symptoms of degenerative disc disease widely vary from person to person and can include any of the following:
- Back and neck pain, from none to severe
- If the affected disc is in the neck area, neck or arm pain
- If the affected disc is in the lower back, pain in the back, buttocks, or leg
- Pain that gets worse with movements such as bending over, reaching up, or twisting
- Numbness or tingling in your arm or leg