Degenerative disc disease is a common result of aging. Similar to osteoarthritis in your joints it develops gradually over many years, most commonly in your lumbar spine causing low back pain.
It is the result of a lifetime of being active.
The intervertebral discs are located between each pair of vertebra throughout your entire spine. It is the structure that connects one vertebra to the next.
Around the outside of the disc is a ring of tough ligament called the annulus that connects one vertebra to the next.
Contained inside of the disc there is a spongy kind of material called the nucleus pulposis.
These two parts work together to allow motion between the vertebra and gives the disc a cushioning shock absorber affect.
When you are 16 years old the interior of the disc had a high fluid content and the annulus around the outside of the disc is strong and supple.
The Intervertebral Discs create a
cushion between each pair of vertebra
Image thanks to Open Stax College, via Wikimedia Commons
As we age the interior of the disc loses moisture and the annulus becomes stiff and brittle.
These changes cause the disc as a whole to become rigid and unbending. Many times people will develop cracks or fissures in the annulus.
The annulus is similar to a ligament around the outside of the disc and it is full of nerve endings. As it becomes brittle and sometimes cracks it becomes painful, sometimes very painful.
At the same time that people are developing degenerative disks they often develop arthritis as well.
Osteoarthritis in the facet joints of your lumbar spine can also cause low back pain that is difficult to separate from the pain of degenerative discs.
Degenerative discs and osteoarthritis in the facet joints of your lumbar spine are probably the most common causes of low back pain in people over the age of 50.
The best way to prevent degenerative disc disease is to avoid growing older.
Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
Maintaining your cardiovascular fitness with daily exercise
Paying close attention to your posture
Drinking plenty of water
Taking these steps you are young can help you delay the progression of this problem but nothing is likely to prevent degenerative disc disease entirely.
When you already have degenerative discs the same rules still apply. A healthy lifestyle can still slow down the progression of this problem.
A healthy diet, daily exercise, and losing any excess weight you may be carrying will help to limit how much pain you experience.
Drinking plenty of water consistently will eventually lead to a higher fluid content in your discs. This will not happen immediately but it will make your discs more supple, less brittle, and less painful.
Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can be helpful for this type of low back pain. Before starting any new medications you should always discuss them with your doctor especially if you have other complicated medical problems.
The good news is degenerative disc disease is not treated with surgery.