Degenerative Disc Disease(DDD) can affect any part of the spine, although common sites are the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) spine; thoracic DDD is very uncommon.
Radiographic (x-ray) findings of DDD are a narro
wer disc space and some osteophyte (bony outgrowth of spur) formation. As people age, these changes tend to show up on the radiographs of most men and women. However, the first imaging modality to detect changes of DDD is MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), even before plain radiographs. Loss of water content (hydration) in the invertebral disc is an early finding, which is followed by narrowing of the disc space. People in the 20’s and 30’s may already have changes to their discs but no clinical symptoms. As the aging processes continues, the prevalence of DDD increases.
In the early phases of DDD, spontaneous or post-traumatic tears, degeneration, fibrosis, and collapse of the disc may lead to failure of mechanical function. This is associated with low back pain and possible leg pain if there is nerve root impingement (radiculopathy).
As DDD progresses, there is ligamentous buckling and osteophyte development which can cause narrowing of the space for the spinal cord and nerve roots. Lumbar spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the neural canal and foramina to an extent that results in compression of the lumbosacral nerve roots or cauda equina. Acquired lumbar stenosis is caused primarily be degenerative disease of the spine. However, a congenitally narrow or small spinal canal is a common finding; when present, it requires less disc degeneration, smaller disc herniation, or osteophytes to cause symptoms.
Causes and Risk Factors of Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease can result from trauma (either acute or chronic/repetitive), infection, or the natural processes of aging. It can euphemistically be referred to as the “grey hairs of the spine”.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
The process of degeneration of the spine may lead to local pain, stiffness, and restricted activity. If there is disc herniation or rupture, one may also have leg/groin/knee pain dependent upon which nerve root is affected.
Treatment of Degenerative Disc Disease
Spinal decompression has been an alternative treatment method for those suffering from DDD. You first must determine of you are a candidate for spinal decompression. Many people have found some success in treating their condition.