Degenerative Disc Disease

 

 

Overview

This condition is a weakening of one or more vertebral discs, which normally act as a cushion between the vertebrae. This condition can develop as a natural part of the aging process, but it may also result from injury to the back.



Disc Wall Tears
Degenerative disc disease typically begins when
small tears appear in the disc wall, called the
annulus. These tears can cause pain.

Disc Wall Heals
When the tears heal, creating scar tissue that 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.

Disc Center Weakens
Over time, the nucleus (or center) of the disc
becomes damaged and loses some of its water
content. This center is called the pulposus, and its
water content is needed to keep the disc
functioning as a shock absorber for the spine.

Nucleus Collapses
Unable to act as a cushion, the nucleus collapses.
The vertebrae above and below this damaged disc
slide closer together. This improper alignment
causes the facet joints – the areas where the
vertebral bones touch – to twist into an unnatural
position.

Bone Spurs Form
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). The site
of the injury may be painful.

Symptoms
Some people experience pain, numbness or
tingling in the legs. Strong pain tends to come and
go. Bending, twisting and sitting may make the pain
worse. Lying down relieves pressure on the spine.