Degenerative Disc Disease

Definition

Discs lie between the spinal bones (vertebra). They serve as shock absorbers. This protects the spine and helps it stay flexible. Degenerative disc disease is wear and tear on these discs. This wear and tear causes pain and other symptoms. Some degeneration is normal as you age. Not all degeneration will result in symptoms of this disease.
Degenerative Disc
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Causes

The disc loses fluid and is not as resilient as normal. The fibrous tissue, which holds the disc material in place, may suffer small tears. These tears lead to further damage. There is some evidence that genetics may play a part for some people.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of degenerative disc disease include:
  • Increased age
  • Family history of degenerative disc disease
  • Sports
  • Back injury
  • Smoking
  • Heavy physical work
  • Obesity

Symptoms

Degenerative disc may cause:
  • Pain in the low back, buttocks, thighs, or neck
  • Pain that worsens when sitting, bending, lifting, or twisting
  • Pain that feels better when walking, changing positions, or lying down
  • Periods of severe pain that gets better after a few days or months
  • Numbness and tingling into the legs
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Inability to raise the foot at the ankle

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.Images may be taken of the disc and surrounding area. This can be done with:Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
Your nerves may be evaluated. This can be done with an electromyogram and nerve conduction studies.

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