Many spine problems begin with degenerative disc disease, which is simply the result of the normal wear-and-tear that your back experiences as you age. With time, intervertebral discs begin to deteriorate, and daily stresses on your back take their toll. This can lead to pain, weakness, and numbness — all signs that something is going wrong.
There is an intervertebral disc between each of your vertebra located in your spine. These discs act as shock absorbers for your spine, and provide flexibility in your movement. When these discs are damaged, your spine does not have the cushioning it needs to allow you to move and bend comfortably.
Healthy intervertebral discs contain water within their centers (this is called the nucleus pulposus). This water allows the disc to absorb stress — you could think of it as if you were running wearing cushioned, well-fitted athletic shoes. Even if you were running on a rocky trail, the padding would absorb much of the impact, so your feet wouldn’t experience every single bump along the way. As we age though, spinal discs lose water. This means that some of the cushioning is gone — to continue the analogy, it can begin to feel as if you were running barefoot. The skin of your feet provides some protection, of course, but things are going to feel much rougher.
The outer part of the intervertebral disc, surrounding that watery center, is the annulus. Though it’s made of tougher ligament, holding the vertebrae in place, this part of the cushion can be damaged by excessive pressure or injury. As the inside of the discs lose water, this too places more pressure on the annulus. With the intervertebral discs losing their cushioning, vertebrae are not held as firmly in place, and can begin to shift nearer to each other. The discs become compressed, and facet joints are forced to move.
This condition produces discogenic pain. Sometimes this pain is felt almost directly in the spot where the damaged disc is. Other times, pain is experienced in the part or parts of the body served by the nerves attached to that part of the spine. The pain from degenerative discs can lead to increasing levels of disability, as sufferers avoid movements that cause their pain to flare up. Though the degeneration of discs is a somewhat inevitable part of aging, constant pain and chronic disability do not have to be. If you are experiencing these symptoms, contact the Spine Institute Northwest today. With early, accurate diagnosis and a proper pain management plan, our physicians can help you get back your life.