About Degenerative Disc Disease

Despite its name, degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease. But that doesn’t make the pain it causes any less real. Whether it’s the result of aging or injury, degenerative disc disease can limit your activity. Some people even need surgery.

Definition

As discs lose their water content because of disease or age, they lose their height, bringing the vertebrae closer together. As a result, the nerve openings in your spine become more narrow. When this happens, the discs don’t absorb the shocks as well, particularly when you are walking, running, or jumping.

Wear and tear, poor posture, and incorrect body movements can also weaken the disc, causing disc degeneration.

Causes

For some of us, degenerative disc disease is part of the natural process of growing older. As we age, our intervertebral discs can lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock-absorbing characteristics. For others, degenerative disc disease can stem from an injury to the back.

Symptoms

The common symptoms that suggest that degenerative disc disease may be responsible for a person’s neck pain include and are not limited to neck pain, pain that radiates down to the back of the shoulder baldes or into the arms, numbness and tingling, and sometimes even difficulties with hand dexterity.

Degenerative disc disease may also cause back and/or leg pain, as well as functional problems such as tingling or numbness in your legs or buttocks, or difficulty walking.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of degenerative disc disease begins with a physical examination of the body, with special attention paid to the neck, back and extremities.

Your doctor will examine your back for flexibility, range of motion, and the presence of certain signs that suggest that your nerve roots are being affected by degenerative changes in your spine. This often involves testing the strength of your muscles and your reflexes to make sure that they are still working normally.

You will often be asked to fill out a diagram that asks you where your symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness are occurring. X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 27 Sep 2010

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