Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is a broad term describing the normal changes that affect a person’s spinal discs. These changes take place and develop in everyone, to some degree. It is not necessarily a disease, but a medical condition in which the discs of the spine have deteriorated due to age, genetics, trauma or injury to the back.
Degenerative Disc Disease is a weakening of one or more vertebral discs, which normally act as a cushion or “shock absorber” between the bones of the spinal column. This condition can develop as a natural part of the aging process. A loss of water absorption and proteoglycan (molecules in the body that attract water) as the body ages can cause damage to the center of discs (the pulpous) resulting in inflexibility or rigidness. When the vertebral discs are unable to act as a cushion, the center collapses, resulting in damaged vertebrae above and below the damage disc. This improper alignment causes the facet joints (the areas where the vertebral bones touch) to twist into an unnatural position. Frequently, patients describe a “grinding bone-on-bone” feeling. In time, this awkward positioning of the vertebrae may create bone spurs. If these spurs grow into the spinal canal, they may pinch the spinal cord and nerves (a condition called Spinal Stenosis).
Degenerative Disc Disease generally begins when small tears appear in a damaged disc wall, called the annulus. These tears can cause pain. As the tears heal, the scar tissue created is not as strong as the original disc wall. If the back is repeatedly injured, the process of tearing and scarring may continue, weakening the disc wall further.
Degenerative Disc Disease may result in neck or back pain. There are some common symptoms that are fairly consistent in people with degenerative disc disease, including arm pain or low back or leg pain. The site of the injury may be painful, and may severe or constant. It is possible for people to feel different degrees of severity of pain, but it tends to come and go. Bending, twisting and sitting may make the pain worse, whereas lying down seems to relieve the pressure on the spine.
Some people experience pain, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs due to compression of the nerve roots. Patients who are diagnosed with nerve root damage can experience lower extremity weakness and symptoms of Sciatica.
The cause of DDD is typically the normal wear and tear that occurs in the discs as a person ages. However, it can also be caused by injury or repetitive lifting. The affected disc becomes thinner and loses its cushioning ability. These changes affect the way the vertebrae in the spine move and bone spurs can result as well as bulging or disc leakage and spondylitis, all of which can cause pain when they contact the spinal nerves. Smoking, obesity, heavy lifting, and hereditary factors also lead to advanced degeneration.
If you, or someone you love, have been suffering from neck or back pain, New Jersey Spinal Medicine and Surgery can help. Contact us today to discuss treatment options. Our goal at New Jersey Spinal Medicine and Surgery is to get you back to a healthy and active lifestyle.