Degenerative Disc Disease

Spinal discs are soft, cushy discs that act as shock absorbers for the vertebrae of the spine, allowing it to bend, twist, and flex. As part of the normal aging process, the spinal discs degenerate or wear down from fluid loss or the build-up of tiny cracks and tears. Although many cases of spinal disc degeneration never cause symptoms or complications, some cases can result in pain and swelling in the neck or lower back and lead to other spinal conditions, such as a herniated discs or spinal stenosis. Some activities and factors can speed up the degeneration of spinal discs, including smoking, heavy lifting, and being overweight. Injuries that cause herniated discs also can speed up the degenerative process. Where the pain occurs depends on which discs are affected (degeneration in the discs of the neck area may cause pain in the neck and arms; whereas degeneration in the discs of the low back area may cause pain in the back, buttocks, or leg). Typically, this pain increases with movement. Treatment of degenerative disc disease often begins with cold or hot therapy and pain relieving anti-inflammatory medication. Physical therapy also can help reduce pain and strengthen and stretch the back and neck through specific exercises.