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Is Degenerative Disc Disease Just Part of Getting Older?

Is Degenerative Disc Disease Just Part of Getting Older?

There’s no getting around the fact that aging can exact a physical toll — the wear-and-tear on your body over the years will leave its mark. To illustrate this point, about 90% of people over the age of 60 have some degree of degeneration in the 23 intervertebral discs in their spine.

Whether this degeneration leads to symptoms is another story.

As spine health experts, the team here at Texas Spine Consultants — Michael Hennessy, MDChester Donnally, MDHeidi Lee, MDAndrew Park, MD, and Robert Viere, MD — is well versed in degenerative disc disease (DDD) and here’s what we know.

A matter of time

Your spine is made up of 33 vertebrae that stretch from the base of your skull down to your pelvis. This column of bony structures includes 23 intervertebral discs that act as spacers, shock absorbers, and they also facilitate movement.

Each of these discs features a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus and a jelly-like interior called the nucleus pulposus. 

With age and wear-and-tear, a degenerative cascade can occur. First, the tissues can naturally lose moisture, causing them to become more brittle and flatter. This, in turn, can allow some of the disc material to leak out, which is what occurs when you have a herniated disc.

Of course, not everyone gets to the point of a herniated disc, but most people do experience degenerative changes in their discs. In fact, degenerative disc disease isn’t really a disease at all, but a natural part of aging.

When disc degeneration becomes problematic

Despite the fact that most everyone’s discs succumb to some degree of wear-and-tear, not everyone develops symptoms.

When DDD leads to symptoms, it’s usually because the disc material has pushed out of its space and its irritating or compressing a nearby nerve root. This usually happens in your lower back or beck, two areas of your spine that enjoy the most movement and palace the most stress on the discs.

You can also experience symptoms if the discs wear down and your vertebrae rub together, which can lead to bone spurs that can irritate nerves.

In either case, nerves are being irritated, which means that you’ll likely experience symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. And these symptoms might be local (in your neck or back) or they might radiate down into an arm or leg, as well.

Treating disc degeneration

In the early stages of symptomatic DDD, we like to treat the problem conservatively with rest followed by targeted strengthening exercises that can help to support your spine in the absence of healthy discs.

Should these conservative efforts fail, we offer surgical solutions, such as spinal decompression and fusion surgery. 

So, if the natural degeneration in your spinal discs starts to create problems, there are ways in which we can help, and the earlier we can intervene, the better.

For expert diagnosis and treatment of degenerative disc disease, please contact one of our offices in Addison or Plano, Texas, to schedule an appointment with one of our spine specialists. 

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