As your foundational structure, your spine is incredibly important to your overall health and you want to do all you can to make sure it’s in good shape. Unfortunately, as you age, the wear-and-tear can add up and cause certain structures in your spine to break down, which perfectly describes degenerative disc disease.
While some degeneration is inevitable, there are certain factors that can initiate the process earlier, or worsen it, and we want you to be aware of them. To that end, the team here at Texas Spine Consultants, including Michael Hennessy, MD, Robert Viere, MD, Andrew Park, MD, Chester Donnally, MD, and Heidi Lee, MD, have outlined a few of these factors below.
The anatomy of your spine
Before we get into factors that may accelerate disc degeneration, let’s first review the role that your dics play in your spine.
From the base of your neck to your pelvis, you have 33 vertebrae that come together to form your spine. In between these vertebrae are 23 intervertebral discs that provide cushioning and support for your spine, not to mention facilitate range of motion in your back and neck.
Each of these discs features an outer layer called the annulus fibrosus, which is made up of tough collagen fibers. Inside each disc is the nucleus pulposus, which is a gel-like substance that handles compression.
As you get older, the outer layer of your discs can lose moisture, making them more brittle and prone to herniation, or rupture. The inner nucleus can also lose moisture, which allows the disc to compress, so your vertebrae are more at risk of rubbing together.
To give you an idea about how prevalent this is, degenerative disc disease affects more than 27% of people, and this number grows in lockstep with age.
Factors that contribute to disc degeneration
While some degeneration may be unavoidable, you still want to do what you can to maintain the integrity of the discs. There are several factors that can contribute to disc degeneration, many of which are under your control to mitigate, including:
- Carrying extra weight
- Placing extra pressure on your discs, such as frequently lifting heavy objects
- Poor core muscle support
- Prolonged sitting
- Bad posture
If you have any of these risk factors, making some lifestyle adjustments can go a long way toward preserving your discs. For example, losing weight can take the added strain off of your spine and your discs. By the same token, if you strengthen your core muscles, including those in your abdomen, you can spread the workout a little more evenly and not rely solely on your spine. When it comes to smoking, there are myriad reasons why you should quit and we’re going to add disc health to this long list.
If you’d like to learn more about ways in which you can support the health of your discs to avoid pain and limited function in the future, please contact one of our offices in Addison or Plano, Texas, to set up an appointment.