As you age, your bones and joints naturally begin to wear down. You may not notice any signs and symptoms at first, but even your spine will begin to weaken. The spinal discs – those rubbery cushions protecting the vertebrae of your spine – can wear away over time, leading to disc degeneration.
Disc degeneration can eventually affect your ability to move without pain. Left untreated, it can lead to other, more severe problems. We’ll discuss below what happens if you let disc degeneration go untreated for a significant amount of time.
What Is Disc Degeneration?
Disc degeneration is not exactly a disease. It is a natural condition that occurs with age. Your spinal discs, the protective cushions between your vertebrae, begin to dry out and deteriorate over time.
These discs protect your spinal nerves and reduce the stress and impact of your vertebrae rubbing together when you move. When the discs begin to wear down, you are likely to experience back pain, as well as numbness and tingling in your limbs.
Complications of Disc Degeneration
If you are experiencing symptoms of disc degeneration, immediately consult your orthopedic doctor about your treatment options. Otherwise, you may end up developing more severe problems, such as the following:
1. Adult Scoliosis
Typically discovered during childhood, scoliosis is an orthopedic condition involving the abnormal curvature of the spine. In some instances, it can develop during adulthood because of disc degeneration. When this occurs, it is called degenerative scoliosis.
One of the most common effects of disc degeneration is height loss. As the spinal discs begin to break down and shrink, the spine shortens. As a result, supporting ligaments become slacker, forcing the spine to arch unnaturally, usually in a horizontal, side-to-side type of curve.
2. Herniated Discs
A herniated disc is the rupturing or slipping of your spinal disc. As the natural aging process causes the discs to degenerate, cracks can begin to form. When the jelly-soft nucleus of these discs begins to push against the cracks, they may leak. This can irritate nearby nerves.
While herniated discs are generally easy to address, they can cause severe damage once it starts affecting spinal nerves. Left untreated, it can even lead to paralysis and death.
3. Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, which runs vertically, through the center of your spine, and houses the spinal cord and nerve bundles.
When disc degeneration causes the cushioning between the vertebrae of your spine to degenerate, the spaces between them narrow. This can lead to spinal stenosis, which irritates your nerves.
Spinal stenosis typically affects the lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) areas of the spine, so you might expect to experience low back and neck pain with the condition. In some severe cases, spinal stenosis can lead to losing bladder and bowel control.
As spinal discs degenerate, cracks can form and cause the bones (vertebrae) to slide abnormally. This condition is known as spondylolisthesis. When this happens, the unstable spinal bone may put extra pressure and stress on the vertebra below it.
That may also compress and impinge upon the spinal nerves, causing a numb or tingling sensation in the legs.
Depending on the severity of this condition, you may need surgery to help stabilize the movement of your spine and to relieve any associated pain.
Spondylolysis is a painful spine condition resulting from a fracture in a thin bone segment between two vertebrae. Physical therapy is one of the best ways to address the recurring pain and discomfort associated with spondylolysis.
A complication of spondylolysis is spondylolisthesis.
Disc Degeneration Treatment in Rochester Hills, Bad Axe, & Royal Oak, MI
Disc degeneration may be a normal part of aging. But that doesn’t mean you have to live with the pain. Addressing the issue early on is important so that you can avoid developing some of the more serious complications of this common orthopedic condition.
Ahlgren Spine offers consultations, diagnosis, and treatment options for a wide variety of orthopedic conditions, including disc degeneration.
We have a compassionate team, led by Dr. Bradley Ahlgren, who will provide you with the best medical service. You can reach out to us by calling (248) 215-8080. You can also use our online consultation form to book a visit with the best orthopedic spine surgeon near you. We want to help you overcome your back pain and disc degeneration issues.