Degenerative disc disease has a rather misleading moniker, as it’s not really a disease, at all. The name describes what is, in fact, the natural degeneration of the spinal discs due to wear and tear over time.
Most commonly seen in the upper and lower back, degenerative disc disease describes the gradual decline of the cartilage in the discs, as we age. As this begins to happen the discs begin to lose protein and fluid, causing them to shrink. With the reduced space between vertebrae this causes, pain and discomfort begin to manifest.
And with the pain, comes instability in the spine. But over time, the spine adjusts to instability in muscles and ligaments and begins to right itself, decreasing symptoms like incessant pain, spasms, extreme flare ups of pain and a reduction in pain after changing positions.
The aging process is the most common cause of degenerative disc disease, but it’s not the only one.
Genetics and family history play a strong role. If you have family members who have suffered from this condition, you’re more likely to develop it as you age.
Smoking is another key risk factor. Nicotine is responsible for preventing nutrients from being absorbed by the discs, drying them out over time. Smokers may also experience disc herniations (when the contents of the disc push outside the hard coating). But a sedentary lifestyle and obesity can also put you at risk, so choosing to adjust your lifestyle as a preventative measure is a good course of action.
Jobs which demand a great deal from your body via manual labor may also make you more susceptible to developing the condition, as well as participation in physically demanding sports. But injury to your spine is another issue which can lead to degenerative disc disease developing more rapidly than it otherwise might have.
One of the best things you can do for your overall health is to quit smoking. This is one of the most frequent causes of degenerative disc diseases, after natural aging.
Exercise is another key factor in determining the likelihood of developing this condition. Keeping your core in shape is an especially good strategy for protecting your spine against many conditions it’s susceptible to.
Finally, nutrition is crucial. We know this is common sense, but few make the connection between spine and disc health and what we eat. Foods rich in nutrients include fruit, vegetables and lean meats. But part of your daily routine should be consuming enough water. The discs can become dehydrated and when this happens, they shrink (just like when they don’t get enough nutrition).
And if your job involves strenuous physical activity, or you’re active in physically demand sports, remember to wear appropriate protective equipment. Warming up before any activity which asks a lot of your body is crucial. Don’t neglect giving your body what it needs to perform at its best for as long as possible.
Spine Consult NJ is dedicated to diagnosing and treating all conditions of the spine. Contact us.