Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back and neck pain, but it’s not really a “disease.” As with spondylosis that we discussed in this month’s first blog, degenerative disc disease is misunderstood, except for the universal pain that it can cause.
Although called a disease, degenerative disc disease refers to symptoms of back or neck pain caused by wear-and-tear on a spinal disc or discs. In some cases, degenerative disc disease also causes weakness, numbness, and hot, shooting pains in the arms or legs. This is radicular pain. In most patients we see at Summit Healthcare Pain Clinic, their degenerative disc disease is causing low-level chronic pain with intermittent episodes of more severe pain.
Fortunately, Dr. Trujillo can manage the majority of cases of degenerative disc disease pain through non-surgical methods.
What causes the pain?
A degenerating spinal disc doesn’t always have a direct link to pain or other issues. The discs themselves don’t have nerves in them; the nerves are adjacent to the discs in the spinal cord and in the nerve roots exiting the spinal cord. The pain usually occurs when the degenerating disc affects other structures in the spine, such as the muscles, joint, or nerve roots.
This pain usually comes from two main factors:
- Inflammation — Inflammatory proteins from the disc space interior can leak out as the disc degenerates, causing swelling in the surrounding spinal structures. This inflammation can produce muscle tension, muscle spasms, and local tenderness in the back or neck. If a nerve root exiting the spinal cord becomes inflamed, pain and numbness may radiate into the arms and shoulders in the cervical spine, or into the hips or legs in the lumbar spine.
- Abnormal instability — As the outer layer of the spinal discs degrades, this can lead to small, unnatural motions between vertebrae. That’s because the normal outer layer is responsible for cushioning and support between the vertebrae. When these motions occur, this can cause tension and irritation in the surrounding muscles, joints, and/or nerve roots as the spinal segment becomes progressively more unstable. This can lead to intermittent episodes of intense pain.
Often both inflammation and instability can lead to muscle spasms. These can be quite painful. A muscle spasm is the body’s attempt to stabilize the spine.
If you’re suffering from any of the pain discussed above, it could be due to a degenerating disc. This merits a call to Summit Healthcare Pain Clinic Associates. Dr. Trujillo can help you with the chronic pain. Call us at (855) 768-4968 to schedule an appointment.