Cervical degenerative disc disease
Spines problems can come from the process of degeneration that occurs within the intervertebral disc. Like the name implies cervical degenerative disc disease is a condition that involves degeneration of the intervertebral disc in the neck. These intervertebral discs are the shock absorbers of the neck. This process of degenerative disc disease will occur in everyone’s neck to some degree through the ageing process, it is a reality of normal ageing. For some however this process of normal ageing goes beyond what is typical and becomes advanced degeneration.
Our intervertebral discs are the shock absorbers of the spine and allow for stresses (movement energy) to be absorbed. In a healthy disc the centre of the disc (nucleus pulposus) contains lots of water making it spongy. This aids its shock absorption role, just like a cushion. The outer layer of a disc is a harder ligament tissue (annulus) that holds the vertebrae together and gives the disc its ‘toughness’. Overtime, through natural ageing, tearing of the annulus will occur. These tears will heal with scar tissue that isn’t as strong as the original tissue. This tearing allows the softer inner nucleus portion of the disc to lose its moisture by escaping, and the disc ultimately becomes less spongy and looses its ability to absorb spinal stresses. Because the disc(s) capacity to absorb load diminishes more tearing in the annulus occurs and this cycle continues. Because the spongy inner part of the disc is no longer absorbing the forces it should be, another structure must now help out with the shock absorption job. Unfortunately it is usually the outer layer of the disc (annulus) or the joints and bones of the spine (vertebrae) that were not designed for this. These structures start to degeneration from the pressure of their new shock absorption roles. Our body does have one strategy to help out – trying to lay down more bone as a final attempt to help out. Unfortunately, over time this new one leads to bone spurs and spinal stenosis. This is the lifelong cascade of cervical degenerative disc disease.
The most common symptom of neck degeneration is pain. Neck pain associated with degenerative disc disease can spread out over both sides of the neck or just one. We can get a combination of discogenic pain (pain from the disc) and pain that occurs as the nerves and spinal cord becomes compressed. This can cause sensory problems, muscle weakness and lasting function loss if it’s not treated early in some cases.
For some, the treatment of cervical disc degeneration can be as simple as letting you know and reassuring you, that in most cases degenerative disc disease does do represent a serious problem. In other cases, a surgical opinion may be the best option. If impairments exist such as a pain, loss of neck mobility, strength or function a chiropractors or physiotherapists role will be to tailor a specific and individualised treatment program that focuses on reducing pain and improving movement and reducing any impairments. Contact Sydney Spine & Sports Centre (S3C) for more information.