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What causes degenerative disc disease in the neck?

In many cases, degenerative disc disease in the neck can be traced to age-related changes in the cervical spine. Over time, the spinal discs gradually lose water content, becoming both thinner and weaker. This can render the discs less effective as cushioning pads for the vertebrae, making it difficult and painful to move the neck.

Degenerative disc disease can also affect the facet joints that link the vertebrae the cervical spine. As a disc breaks down and loses height, the surrounding vertebrae can move closer together. This can cause the facet joints to move too much, or “override.” Hypermobility can lead to a breakdown of the protective cartilage that lines a facet joint. Left unprotected, the bone surfaces may begin to grind against each other. In response, the body may produce excess body deposits (bone spurs) to help control the movement of a degenerated joint. Because bone spurs take up space within the spinal canal, further issues such as spinal narrowing and painful nerve compression can result.

Other factors that can contribute to the development of degenerative disc disease

While the natural aging process is the most common cause of degenerative disc disease in the neck, other factors can contribute to its development as well. These include:

  • Genetics. Some people are predisposed to the effects of spinal wear and tear.
  • Injuries. Direct trauma to the neck, whiplash injuries, sport-related accidents and strain resulting from repetitive bending and twisting can accelerate the breakdown of the discs in the cervical spine.
  • Poor posture. The neck supports the full weight of the head. If the cervical spine is improperly aligned due to poor posture, the misalignment can add to the already significant burden on the neck.
  • Smoking. Along with myriad other detrimental health effects, tobacco use can dehydrate the spinal discs, causing them to degenerate faster.

Treatment for degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease in the neck can often be treated effectively with conservative options, such as physical therapy and medications. However, some patients ultimately elect surgery to address severe or persistent discomfort. In these instances, the minimally invasive outpatient surgery performed by the surgeons at USA Spine Care is often clinically appropriate and provides many advantages versus open neck or back surgery.^

If you would like to learn more, contact USA Spine Care to request a free MRI review.* Our team can explain your options and help you determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.

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