A degenerative disc is part of the normal aging process and can be uncomfortable.Your chiropractor can help.
What Is a Degenerative Disc?
Your spine is composed of 33 interlocking bones, called vertebrae. Between each of these 33 bones, there is a disc, called the intervertebral disc, which acts as shock absorbers. They allow the spine to bend, flex, and twist. These discs contain a gel-like substance called nucleus pulposus allowing for normal, pain-free function.
As we age, however, these discs lose some of their shock absorption power, and they can cause pain. The most common places for a degenerative disc are in the cervical spine, at the neck, or in the lumbar section, or the lower back, because they receive most of the strain of daily living.
The Causes of a Degenerative Disc
A degenerative disc, sometimes called degenerative disc disease, happens when the intervertebral disc loses some of the nucleus pulposus. As you age, the disc becomes thinner until it begins to cause pain. Your disc can also develop small cracks in the outer shell, and some of the fluid can leak out.
While age is often the primary cause of degenerative discs, there are also other factors that can exacerbate it. People who do heavy, manual labor, especially people who repeatedly pick up heavy things, are more likely to have a degenerative disc as well as people who use a poor lifting technique, play contact sports, smoke cigarettes, and experience trauma that leads to a degenerative disc.
The Symptoms of a Degenerative Disc
The symptoms of degenerative disc vary from person to person. Some people experience little or no pain, while someone with the same amount of degeneration experiences excruciating or even debilitating pain.
The pain often radiates out from the location of the disc. A degenerative disc in your neck may cause neck pain, shoulder pain, and even arm pain. When in your lower back, it can radiate through the buttocks and down the legs.
Symptoms can flare up after a major injury, like a car accident, after a minor injury, like a fall, or after doing normal movements, like twisting. Sometimes it starts gradually for no reason at all. Many people call this throwing out your back.
The Treatment of a Degenerative Disc
Your chiropractor can diagnose a degenerative disc by asking about symptoms, looking at your history, and a physical exam. Sometimes they use imaging technology like an x-ray or an MRI.
Your chiropractor has many possible treatment options to help alleviate the symptoms of a degenerative disc. Spinal manipulation techniques help to ensure the spine is in optimal alignment. Your chiropractor may use manual manipulation techniques like massage, stretching, or soft tissue manipulation. It is also possible to use electrical stimulation or ultrasound to reduce inflammation and alleviate muscle spasms.
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