What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

In order to better understand what causes back pain to develop, we first need to explore what makes up the inner workings of our spinal column:

Spine disc damge

What are these discs, anyway?

You can think of the human spine has having two primary components – a series of small bones, called vertebrae, and a set of discs that separate and cushion the vertebrae against each other. Appropriately called “intervertebral discs”, these are made of water, cartilage and fibrous tissues, and are designed to absorb shocks and compression pressure from the natural bending, bouncing, and twisting that our spines experience as we move.

Why and how do discs break down?

Disc degeneration is an unfortunate fact of aging. At birth, water makes up the great majority of disc composition (approximately 80%), but as we get older, the percentage of water decreases while the remaining cartilage and collagen begins turning brittle. Spinal discs thus become less flexible and elastic (and may even shrink), making them ineffective at absorbing the shocks of normal movement and at protecting the delicate nerves within the spinal cord from colliding vertebrae. Many people suffering from disc degeneration will experience chronic pain that requires medical attention.

Though disc degeneration is more common in elderly patients, it can occur in youth as well – most often as a result of sports or other traumatic injuries that cause tearing. It can be accelerated in patients of any age by negative health habits, including habitual poor posture, regular use of alcohol and/or tobacco, and poor hydration.

What can be done about degenerative disc disease?

Fortunately, non-surgical solutions can generally diminish much of the pain relating to degenerative disc disease, and restore partial or full range of motion and functionality. Physical therapy and treatment sessions with expert chiropractors often prove useful, as does the prescription of anti-inflammatory medication. Patients who are obese and/or partake regularly in alcohol or tobacco consumption can make healthier lifestyle changes that may also alleviate the symptoms of degeneration.

If these options provide insufficient at relieving pain and restoring spinal function, surgical treatments are also available. These include the removal of impaired discs and the insertion of artificial replacements, as well as spinal fusion (the permanent joining of two or more vertebrae together).

The solution that is best for you will vary depending on the underlying cause of pain and other health factors, so discuss your options with spinal specialist.

For more information on degenerative disc disease, reach out to the spinal health experts at Atlanta Spine Surgery today.

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