What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Since this is a condition that progresses with age, degenerative disc disease prevention may seem impossible, or not worth the effort. We cannot turn back the hands of time. However, just as with cardiovascular disease, a healthy lifestyle may significantly delay its development. A healthy lifestyle can improve your quality of life starting immediately and save you years of pain and treatments.
Disc degeneration occurs with age, resulting in decreased flexibility and increased susceptibility to injury. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, at birth, water makes up 90% of the human body. At adulthood, it water makes up 70% of it. By age 90, water makes up only 50% of it. Therefore, as we age, our discs dehydrate and become more brittle and fragile. Additionally, the composition of elastin, the protein that gives tissues the ability to stretch, chemically changes as we age and decreases the ability for elastin to stretch.
Degenerative Disc Causes
Discs have two main components, a tough outer layer and an inner soft gelatinous core. When pressure occurs along the spinal column, the core pushes outward against the wall of the disc. The elastic recoil of the wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, reestablishing the height and shape of the disc. As we grow older, natural daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc. Small tears may develop in the fibers of the tough outer layer.
This tearing causes some loss of the disc’s elasticity or recoil. The outer wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer layer sags, and is said to bulge or collapse. The disc may even herniate — when the soft center of a spinal disc pushes through a crack in the tougher exterior casing. This combination of effects leads to disc degeneration.
Lifestyle Changes for Degenerative Disc Disease Prevention
There are several methods that can be used for degenerative disc disease prevention. Although it is not possible to fully restore your healthy spine, there are certain ways to slow disc degeneration. By following these healthy lifestyle tips, it could drastically improve your spine health.
- At work — always maintain proper posture; keep your spine straight and your shoulders back. Make sure your desk chair has proper lower back (lumbar) support. Take frequent breaks to walk and stretch.
- At home — never move objects that are too heavy. For example, when sitting on a couch or in a recliner, keep your spine in a neutral position. Always make sure to support your lower back and neck.
- While you sleep — get a medium-firm mattress and a pillow with cervical support. Make an effort to sleep on your back, but if you must sleep on your side, put a pillow between your knees to make sure your spine doesn’t “collapse” into the curve of your body.
Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment
As disc degeneration occurs, there are many effective nonsurgical treatments for symptom management. Physical therapy, chiropractic work, low-impact exercise, pain medication and yoga are all excellent treatments for relieving pain. Regardless, it’s important that you receive a proper diagnosis and consult with your physician before starting any treatment method.
In some cases, conservative treatment is not effective and surgery is recommended. If conservative treatments have failed to relieve your pain and symptoms from degenerative disc disease and your physician has recommended surgery, you should find the least invasive successful surgical treatment possible.
BEST Health System
BEST Health System specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery that is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back procedures and offers many benefits, including less risk of infection and no lengthy recovery. For more information on how BEST can help you find relief from chronic neck and back pain, contact us today.