What Causes Cervical Herniated/Degenerative Disc Disease?
As we age, our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, which may result in degenerative disc disease in some people. This is often caused from:
- Loss of fluid. This makes the discs less flexible and reduces the ability of the discs to act as shock absorbers. It is the result of normal wear and tear on your spine.
- Injury. If the back has been injured, small cracks or tears may form in the annulus, or outer wall of the disc. When the tears heal, they develop scar tissue making the wall weaker. The nucleus, or gel-like material inside the disc, could seep through the tears or cracks, which can cause the disc to bulge, break open (rupture), or break into fragments.
People who smoke or who do heavy physical labor (such as heavy lifting) are at higher risk for degenerative disc disease. Studies have shown infection is more common in people who smoke and the risk of complications, should the patient choose to have surgery, significantly increases.
As the space between the vertebrae gets smaller, there is less padding between them and the spine becomes less stable. The body’s natural reaction is to create bone spurs (osteophytes). Bone spurs can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots, resulting in pain and affecting overall nerve function.
What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease makes the discs more susceptible to bulging or herniation.
- Pain and limited movement. If the impaired disc is located in the lower back (lumbar region), pain usually occurs into the pelvic area or upper thighs.
- “Pseudo-sciatica” or false sciatica, to differentiate from true sciatica, is used to describe pain that shoots traveling down the entire thigh and leg. If the affected disc is located in the neck (cervical region), you may experience pain or numbness in your arms and hands.