Degenerative disc disease

Despite its name, degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease. But that doesn’t
make the pain it causes any less real. Whether it’s the result of aging or injury,
degenerative disc disease can limit your activity. Some people even need surgery.

As discs lose their water content because of disease or age, they lose their height,
bringing the vertebrae closer together. As a result, the nerve openings in your
spine become more narrow. When this happens, the discs don’t absorb the shocks
as well, particularly when you are walking, running, or jumping.
Wear and tear, poor posture, and incorrect body movements can also weaken the
disc, causing disc degeneration.

For some of us, degenerative disc disease is part of the natural process of growing
older. As we age, our intervertebral discs can lose their flexibility, elasticity, and
shock-absorbing characteristics. For others, degenerative disc disease can stem
from an injury to the back.

The common symptoms that suggest that degenerative disc disease may be
responsible for a person’s neck pain include and are not limited to neck pain, pain
that radiates down to the back of the shoulder blades or into the arms, numbness
and tingling, and sometimes even difficulties with hand dexterity.
Degenerative disc disease may also cause back and/or leg pain, as well as
functional problems such as tingling or numbness in your legs or buttocks, or
difficulty walking.

The diagnosis of degenerative disc disease begins with a physical examination of
the body, with special attention paid to the neck, back and extremities.
Your doctor will examine your back for flexibility, range of motion, and the
presence of certain signs that suggest that your nerve roots are being affected by
degenerative changes in your spine. This often involves testing the strength of your
muscles and your reflexes to make sure that they are still working normally.
You will often be asked to fill out a diagram that asks you where your symptoms of
pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness are occurring. X-rays or a magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered.

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