What is degenerative disc disease?

Despite its name, degenerative disc disease is not a disease but a natural occurrence of age. According to the Neurological Institute of New York, by 35 approximately 30% of us will show evidence of disc degeneration, and by the age of 60 more than 90% of us will.

Your spine is made of bone, soft tissue, and nerves. Between every bone of your spine (the vertebrae) is soft tissue, which are called the spinal discs. These discs can show signs of wear and tear as we get older.

Not everyone feels pain from degenerative discs, but spinal degeneration is not unlike tooth decay: it is often a painless process at first, but by the time you notice a problem or feel pain, degeneration often has already been happening for years.

Causes of degenerative disc disease

Other than age, there are more factors that may speed up degeneration or start it earlier in life.

Repeated daily stress and minor but regular injury can hasten onset, but one of the major factors for earlier degenerating discs is if your spine has fixations. Fixations are when the spine locks up, even mildly, limiting movement and function, possibly causing pain. Spinal fixation can potentially starve your discs of necessary fluid and nutrients.

Obesity, strenuous physical work, tobacco smoking, and acute or sudden injury are also major causes of hastened degenerative disc disease.

Phase 1 of Degeneration

In the 1st stage of degenerative disc disorder, your spine will begin to lose it's normal curve. There may be not pain, but you may feel:

  • Minor discomfort.
  • Less energy.
  • Slight loss of height.

Also, once degeneration starts, it will occur more quickly because your joints, discs, nerves, and posture are each more stressed.

In phase 1, response to spinal care such as chiropractic care and spinal decompression are good.

Phase 2 of Degeneration

In the 2nd stage of degenerative disc disorder, there is clear evidence of decay, disc narrowing, and bone spurs or deformations. You may feel:

  • Aches & pains.
  • Fatigue.
  • Postural changes.
  • Further height decrease.
  • Diminished ability to cope with stress.

You may also develop spinal stenosis in phase 2, where the spinal canal narrows often pinching the nerves in the spine. The symptoms of stenosis include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the arms, hands, legs, or feet.
  • Cramping in one or both legs, which eases when you bend forward or sit.
  • Problems walking or with your balance.
  • Back or neck pain.
  • Bowel or bladder problems (severe cases).

With care, significant improvement within phase 2 is possible.

Phase 3 of Degeneration

In the 3rd stage of degenerative disc disorder, there are more postural changes, increased nerve damage, permanent spinal scar tissue, and advanced bone deformation. Physical and/or mental weakness and disability are apparent. Loss of energy and height continue.

Luckily, with care, much reversal is still possible.

Phase 4 of Degeneration

In the 4th stage of degenerative disc disorder, postural imbalance is severe and motion is limited. There is extreme nerve damage, scar tissues, and bones may be fused or on their way to fusing.

If you are in phase 4, you will feel:

  • Pain.
  • Various degrees of mental or physical disability.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Loss of height.

But there's still hope. Care in this phase can offer symptomatic relief and some limited correction.

Preventing degenerative disc disease

As you probably noticed, preventing degenerative disc disease before it becomes a problem is the key. Chiropractic care specifically can reduce, halt, and even reverse spinal degeneration. Care can also improve balance and posture.

If you are not feeling pain, you might notice your loss in height first by even half an inch. The earlier degeneration is identified, the better the chance we have to arrest and reverse it.

If you're showing symptoms or had a recent injury and would like to be evaluated for care to slow, stop, or reverse this process, click here to schedule your visit.

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