Although degenerative disc disease in the lumbar (lower back) is very common, Dr. Nikesh Seth also treats the most common cause of neck pain: degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine. There is no one single cause, and experts believe that there is a genetic component to this painful condition. Wear and tear of the cervical spine (neck), as well as injuries, can also kickstart or exacerbate cervical degenerative disc disease.
The neck is comprised of six discs, and between each of them, there is cartilage to absorb shock and allow the neck to move smoothly. However, when that cartilage wears down, the bones in the neck can rub against one another. This cartilage, or annulus fibrosus, is made up of strands and is full of a type of gel (nucleus pulposus). It’s that gel that really provides shock absorption.
Discs change with age. Kids have discs made up of 85 percent water. However, this hydration lessens as people get older. By the time a person is 70, on average the discs are comprised of 70 percent water. Lack of hydration means less cushion and a propensity for cartilage tears. Discs cannot repair themselves like other bones because they have no blood supply. Any crack in the disc is permanent, and scar tissue surrounding it can lead to additional breaks.
Although “disease” is in the title, cervical disc disease isn’t really a disease. Instead, it is a process of degeneration. Any person who lives long enough will have some degenerative discs in their body. Many people with degenerative disc disease have no symptoms, but an MRI will reveal that their discs are indeed breaking down. For those who do experience pain, it can present in many ways. Pain often begins in their 30s or 40s.
Chronic pain is usually related to additional issues such as osteoarthritis, herniated discs, or spinal stenosis. Pain can also be temporary and acute. There is no cure for degenerative disc disease (though in severe cases surgery may be recommended), but pain management is possible. Injections, radiofrequency ablation, spinal cord stimulations, and medication management may be right for you. To find out more, connect with Integrated Pain Consultants today.