Degenerative Disc Disease

A healthy disc is made up of two parts. The inner part is called the nucleus pulposus containing protein and water, and the outer part the annulus fibrosus, is made up of dense connective tissue. Essentially the nucleus pulposus is a centrally located bag of fluid that under pressure, pushes into a stiff elastic band, the annulus fibrosus. Together they give the disc its unique ability to compress and distribute the force of the spine.

Degenerative disc disease is a gradual process that occurs with age from wear and tear. Over time from improper stress, the protein and water content of the spinal discs decreases. The process is often accelerated from occupational stresses such as sitting for long periods and repetitive lifting. Injuries such as auto accidents and falls also play a role in the acceleration of disc degeneration.

The loss of water and protein results in a decrease in the disc’s normal height resulting in a “Flat Tire” like structure.  The middle fluid carrying center becomes deflated and the outer part of the disc bulges out over the vertebra. This altered structure severely affects the discs ability to act as a shock absorber and compress under normal spinal loads. Over time the outer part of the disc will develop tears leading to disc bulges and herniations. Disc degeneration can also lead to disorders such as spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), spondylolisthesis (forward slippage of the disc and vertebra), and retrolisthesis (backward slippage of the disc and vertebra).

Imaging of Degenerative Disc Disease

The initial stages of disc degeneration cannot be seen by X-rays. The later stages of disc degeneration appears as a loss of disc height and bone spurring around the spinal vertebra on X-rays. MRIs are best for visualizing the beginning stages of disc degeneration. The MRI shows the water content in the disc, a decrease in the water content is referred to “disc dessication”.

Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Pain and Symptoms

The symptoms of disc degeneration vary from patient to patient. One of the most common presentations of disc degeneration pain in the lumbar spine is a continuous low grade pain at the base of the spine with occasional flare ups. Pain symptoms can vary, but generally are:

  • Centered on the lower back, although it can radiate to the hips and legs
  • Frequently worse when sitting, as the discs experience a heavier load than when patients are standing, walking or even lying down.
  • Exacerbated by certain movements, particularly bending or twisting.

Treatment of Disc Degeneration at Susquehanna Spine and Joint Center

Treatment at Susquehanna Spine and Joint Center focuses as allowing the disc to heal itself. Our clinic uses Spinal Decompression, Integrated Disc Therapy, and Spinal Rehabilitation to increase the circulation to the disc. This increase in circulation provides more oxygen and nutrients to the discs so they can produce more protein that is responsible for keeping the disc hydrated.