Degenerative disc disease is primarily an age-related spine condition. As we get older, our bodies have a natural tendency to dry and out lose water content. For our rubbery spinal discs, which help to cushion the spine and allow for our flexibility, this means loss of elasticity and increased brittleness.
This overall phenomenon is diagnosed as degenerative disc disease and is the underlying cause of many cases of bulging and herniated discs, as well as loss of spinal disc height. Degenerative disc disease can cause a range of painful and debilitating symptoms, including neck pain and back pain, but it is possible to have a good quality of life if you are diagnosed with this condition.
While it’s not possible to turn back the clock on the aging process, you can identify additional risk factors that can accelerate the development of degenerative disc disease. This can not only lower your likelihood of developing symptomatic degenerative disc disease, but it can also help with managing it if you have been diagnosed.
The following five risk factors are the most significant that can contribute to spinal disc degeneration outside of aging. If you’d like to learn more or you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our caring and dedicated team.
- Carrying extra weight
By supporting the upper body and holding us upright, the spine has to withstand tremendous pressure on a daily basis. Although the parts of the spine, including the vertebrae, spinal discs and facet joints, are very strong, they do wear out over time. One of the best ways to slow down the rate of disc degeneration is to reduce the weight that is being placed on the spine on a daily basis.
Being overweight or obese adds to the stress on the spinal discs, which over time, can become a significant risk factor for degenerative disc disease. By working to maintain a healthy weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise, you can promote long-term spinal disc health. Even in cases of degenerative disc disease that are already causing neck pain or back pain, weight management can help with both pain relief and slowing down the progress of disc degeneration.
- A sedentary lifestyle
Independent of its association with obesity, being overly sedentary is a degenerative disc disease risk factor for a number of reasons.
First, exercise is associated with stronger supporting muscles, which help to relieve stress on spinal discs. Second, exercise also helps improve blood flow to the discs, which receive notoriously little nutrient-rich blood.
By staying as active as possible, patients can slow down these factors that jeopardize spinal disc health.
- Postural and mechanical problems
Our daily movements and posture play a tremendous role in how much stress and resulting wear and tear the spinal discs endure. Poor posture results in uneven stress on the spine, putting excess pressure on certain discs that can cause them to wear out more quickly.
Additionally, mechanical imbalances can also speed up disc degeneration, particularly among people who work a physical job or regularly engage in athletic activities. By working with a trainer or physical therapist, patients can learn how to focus on proper posture and movement throughout the day.
- Poor nutrition and tobacco use
What you put into your body can have a significant effect on the health of your spinal discs. Not only does healthy eating help manage weight, but good nutrition can help your discs in other important ways. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein and micronutrients can help build muscle, including the neck and back muscles that support the spine and discs. Additionally, avoiding inflammatory foods such as processed sugar, grains and fats can help relieve pain and inflammation associated with nerve compression.
Tobacco use is also associated with poor disc health over and above the deleterious effects it has on the heart and lungs. By decreasing the already low blood supply to the discs, tobacco use can speed up disc degeneration. This is why smokers and other tobacco users with degenerative disc disease and other spine conditions are always encouraged to start a cessation program upon diagnosis.
Effective treatment for degenerative disc disease
To learn more about treatment options for degenerative disc disease, from physical therapy to minimally invasive spine surgery, contact the experienced team at USA Spine Care today. Our multidisciplinary experts are dedicated to patient-centered, personalized care that helps each person reach their treatment goals. Degenerative disc disease should not keep you on the sidelines of your life, we can help you get back to the people and activities you love.
Degenerative Disc Disease Quick Answers:
What are the best treatments for degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease can often be treated with conservative therapies that help manage symptoms and improve function. This includes over-the-counter medication, physical therapy and spinal injections. Surgery is a last-resort treatment, but it can be effective in cases of nerve compression and spinal instability that do not respond to conservative care.
Can patients become paralyzed from degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease does not normally cause paralysis. In very rare cases, nerve compression related to disc degeneration can result in a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome that can result in paralysis if not treated immediately. Patients experiencing loss of sensation in the lower body and incontinence should seek immediate medical attention.
Can I have a good quality of life after a degenerative disc disease diagnosis?
It is possible to perform regular activities and manage symptoms with degenerative disc disease. Patients should commit to conservative therapy and make any recommended lifestyle changes to promote a disc-healthy lifestyle. This can help slow down the progression of the condition and reduce symptoms.
How do I prevent degenerative disc disease from getting worse?
Identifying and addressing risk factors that contribute to degenerative disc disease is one of the best ways to slow down the progression of degenerative disc disease. Managing weight, practicing good posture, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can promote healthy discs, even with a degenerative disc disease diagnosis.