Disease State

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

As the body ages, the support structure better known as the spine, also breaks down, or degenerates. The same occurs with intervertebral discs which can result in degenerative disc disease (DDD) in some people. Degenerative disc disease is usually characterized by a loss of water content in the disc that can occur over time.


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“Degenerative disc disease is not technically a “disease” but a process of deterioration of the spine’s intervertebral discs. It is age-related and may begin to affect a person during their 40s. Previous spinal trauma, injury, and wear and tear can contribute to the development of degenerative disc disease. Much has been learned from previous research studies about how degenerative disc disease begins and progresses. For example, as we age, our cellular metabolism slows down. Old cells are not replaced as quickly as during our youth. In the spine, this causes subtle changes in disc elasticity, strength, shape, and height that can lead to a cascade of disc-related problems, such as bulging and herniation.”


Degenerative disc disease is usually characterized by a loss of water content in the disc that can occur over time. As the disc loses water, it becomes thinner and the distance between the vertebrae narrows. This loss of fluid reduces the disc’s ability to act as a shock absorber and makes it less flexible which can result in the facet joints of the spine rubbing together and potentially even nerve growth into the center of the disc causing pain. Also, tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus or capsule) of the disc can occur and the jelly-like material inside the disc (nucleus) may be forced out through the tears or cracks in the capsule, which causes the disc to bulge, break open (rupture), or break into fragments. The direct, or discogenic, cause of axial low back pain involves sensory nerve ingrowth into the degenerated disc.


“As the space between the vertebrae narrows, there is less padding between the vertebrae causing the spine to become less stable. The body reacts to this by developing bony growths called bone spurs (osteophytes). Bone spurs can put pressure on the spinal nerve roots or spinal cord, resulting in pain and affecting nerve function.”
WebMD - http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/tc/degenerative-disc-disease-references

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