What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

As people grow older, their bodies lose the resilience that they had in their youth. Everyday life causes wear and tear to the joints and cartilage, including the cartilaginous discs between the spinal and cervical vertebrae. Normal wear and tear does not often cause significant pain, but when a person experiences degenerative disc disease, it can severely impact their ability to engage in normal activities.

Degenerative disc disease is a common condition that many people experience as they age. The spinal discs between the vertebrae in the spine and neck are made up of cartilage. Cartilage is a soft, flexible tissue that absorbs the shock from walking, running and other activities. Absorbing this kind of shock causes the cartilage to erode as time goes on. When this happens, the cushion between bones wears away and leaves bones rubbing together, which can be very painful.

Two Major Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Loss of fluid in spinal and cervical cartilage: The fluid in the discs is what allows it to remain flexible and resilient. When less fluid is present, the discs’ ability to absorb shocks from everyday activities is depleted. Fluid loss also results in loss of volume, which brings the discs closer together and causes them to rub together at points where cartilage has been reduced.

  • Tiny injuries to the protective outer layer of the cartilage: Small injuries from normal activities can cause tearing and cracking in the layer of the discs that keeps the tissue from degrading. The fluid inside the discs is displaced through these injuries, which brings the vertebrae closer together and diminishes the discs’ ability to heal.

People who smoke, who lift heavy objects frequently, who are obese or who sustained a major injury to the back are more likely to experience degenerative disc disease. Poor posture, frequent incorrect body positions and incorrect body movements also contribute to degenerative disc disorder. Degenerative disc disease can result in pain in the neck and the lower back. Depending on which discs are most affected, people can also experience pain and numbness in the legs. Walking, sitting and other normal activities can become painful. Managing pain through exercise and other therapeutic methods are common treatments employed by orthopedic doctors.

Surgery can be invasive and have a long recovery period, so most orthopedic doctors help their patients explore all of their options before resorting to surgical therapeutic methods.