Spinal cord issues arise slowly, but gradually affect our health and lifestyle too. The following is an exposure on major disease of the spine, which is cervical degenerative disc disease.
Pain and spasms become more of regular visitors as we begin to age. Most of the pain and issues that affect our joints and muscles are related to the spinal cord. After all, the spinal cord is the most important structure that supports and houses the important nerves and tissues, responsible for effective functioning of the body. The most common disease that has emerged to be a root cause of pain and other related issues is cervical degenerative disc disease. Let us understand what lies beneath, in this disease. Due to the natural process of aging, the levels of water and protein in our body gradually start depleting. The cervical spine in our body is made up of vertebrae.
There are seven vertebrae in the spine and each of them is separated with cartilage and cushioning. These act like shock absorbers in the spine. Due the low levels of protein and also due to excess wear and tear of the spine, this protective and absorbing cushion, between each vertebra starts to degenerate. Losing protein and water can also cause them to dry out and desiccate, which makes them weak and less resilient. Once this starts to degenerate, it causes the space in the vertebrae to become more narrow. This gradual change and wear and tear of the cervical discs causes cervical degenerative disc disease aka ‘DDD’.
A degenerative disc causes pain in mostly the neck region of the body. However, it radiates to the other parts like the arm, the hand and shoulder too. A progress in DDD may lead to risks like herniated disc. Here the disc will bulge out or slip from its position, causing immense pain with a serious condition. Let us understand the symptoms, causes and treatment of DDD below.
Cervical Disc Degeneration – Causes and Symptoms
The symptoms mainly include neck pain, stiffness and reduced flexibility in the neck. Disc degeneration cause the disc to lose the desired gap leading to stiffness. Due to a thin disc and less gap, the nerve roots that emerge from the spine get entrapped and pinched due to the pressure. This leads to pain and numbness in certain areas of the body like the neck, shoulder and arm. Tingling and a burning sensation is also felt in case of a pinched nerve due to disc degeneration. Any damaged disc pieces may also break off and interfere with the nerves causing irritation.
Apart from nerve pinching, the degeneration of the spine also causes it to lose the weight bearing capacity of the body, leading to pain during movement and bending. Since the spine is unable to bear the stress and weight, other parts in the spine have to contribute to the effective functioning of the spine. This leads to pain, inflammations and spasms. It may sometimes also cause a headache in certain cases. The pain can radiate from the neck to other areas as well, like the thighs and the hips. The pain will be more prominent during any movement of the body.
The causes do not make a list. The most common cause is aging and excess wear and tear of the cervical disc. Any trauma to the cervical disc due to a fall or an injury may also lead to this condition.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis will start with the examination and understanding the exact symptoms of the patient. The doctor will check the neck area, by asking you to move the neck in certain ways. Your physical exam will also include the test of your flexibility, strength, sensation and reflexes that can check if there is any neurological injury. Tests like CT scan, MRI and X rays too are advised for exact diagnosis of the damaged cervical disc.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the damage. In most of the cases, non surgical procedures and treatment is advised. The doctor may advise medicines that reduce the pain and swelling. Some of the home treatments can also help, like avoiding excess straining of the spine. Giving enough rest and avoiding bending, kneeling or performing any activity that will put pressure or worsen the disease. A hot compress can also ease out the swelling and the pain. A neck brace will help to keep the spine supported and hence reduce the pain.
The doctor will also advise certain exercises to combat the degeneration and symptoms. A physical therapist will advise a set of certain cervical spine exercises depending on nature of DDD. Chiropractic treatment is also advised in certain cases to tackle cervical disc disease. Some other non surgical treatments include, injecting the adjacent joints and muscles of the degenerated discs with steroids to relieve pain. Electrothermal annuloplasty also known as ‘IDET’, helps to heat the affected discs to a certain temperature, that hardens and strengthens the disc. All these treatments will help in case of moderate symptoms, however if the symptoms do not show improvement in a few weeks, further treatment options like surgery can help.
Only after proper tests will a surgery be prescribed. In severe cases like herniated disc a surgery will be prescribed. The most common surgical options are:
- Discectomy – the damaged disc is removed and is replaced with artificial disc.
- Cervical Fusion – this procedure is often followed after discectomy. Here, a piece of bone is implanted in the space in the vertebrae, which on healing gradually fuses with the vertebrae and helps in relieving pain. This is the most successful surgical treatment.
A cervical disc that is degenerated will cause typical pain in the neck, however with proper diet, treatment and exercise this can be tackled well. Aging is something that has no medicine, but for all the diseases that start with aging, science and research sure has relief options.