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All You Needed to Know About Disc Desiccation

Debopriya Bose Nov 03, 2018
Disc desiccation refers to the loss of fluid in the intervertebral discs of the spine. The result is wear and tear of the discs as well as the vertebrae that manifests as acute pain in the back. To know more about desiccation of discs, read on...
Our spine is made of a number of small bones, called vertebrae, that provide us flexibility to bend and twist on our back. The space between consecutive vertebrae has a soft, flat, jelly like disc.
These discs act as shock absorbers as the spine moves slightly back and forth about its vertical axis when one walks. Disc desiccation is a disc degenerative condition that can be one of the common causes of severe back pain.
This may occur at any time in one's life due to trauma. However, it is also a very common consequence of the aging process. Although it may occur at any part of the spinal column, desiccation of discs more commonly occurs along the lumbar region in the lower back (known as lumbar disc desiccation) or in the cervical region along the neck.

What is Meant by Desiccation of Discs?


Each intervertebral disc has a lot of fluid in its central portion. The high fluid content gives these discs the soft, spongy quality that allows them to act as a cushion and shock absorber between successive vertebrae. However, as we grow older the fluid in an intervertebral disc reduces, and the disc becomes dry and hard.
Dehydration of the disc material destroys the flexibility of the disc and lowers the height of the disc. The result is back pain in regions corresponding to the dehydrated intervertebral discs, as the discs are unable to act as shock absorbers and the vertebrae experience greater friction.
Dehydrated disc due to old age is very common among those who are 60 years old and above. Besides age, trauma or repeated injury or strain to the same area of the back can also cause disc desiccation. Severe degeneration of discs leads to spinal instability.
As it becomes impossible for the spine to bear the weight of the body, debilitating pain is experienced by the person even during normal activities that involve minimum movement of the spine.

Muscle Imbalance

When certain muscles are stronger than the others in the neighboring areas, it may cause muscle imbalance. The result ispostural dysfunction that causes excess load on discs in certain areas of the spine.
These discs undergo repeated wear and tear and become a weak point, which causes contact with nerves passing through the spine resulting in pain. One of the main aim of most of the disc desiccation treatment options is to strengthen the muscles to relieve the excess stress created on the intervertebral desiccated disc.

Conservative Treatment

Massage therapy relaxes the muscles around the affected area, and hence takes some pressure away from the discs in that region.

Physical therapy and chiropractic treatment increases the flexibility of the body, and hence eases the pain.
Although most of the time the patient works with the physical therapist, the latter often recommends certain stretching exercises that can be done by the patient at home.
Certain low impact exercises ease pain. These are mostly back exercises that build muscle strength and also increase the range of motion and flexibility.
Water aerobics has been found to be specially useful in disc dehydration treatment, as impact of these exercises are minimally felt as they are done in water.

Exercise also results in weight loss that helps in taking some weight off the affected disc. This reduces the pain that an individual experiences due to dehydration of the disc material.
Certain medicines may be taken as pain relievers and relaxants. These provide temporary relief from pain and should be taken only after one has consulted a physician.


In case of severe or chronic pain, surgery may be weighed as an option. Surgeries may be used to treat a part of the desiccated disc in case of a herniated disc or a bulging disc. However, in some cases "artificial disc replacement" may be required to be performed. It involves removal of the degenerated disc and replacing it with an artificial one. 
Thanks to the advanced technology, a dehydrated disc can be rehydrated with the help of a surgery called "spinal decompression". During the surgery, the bones of the spine are carefully separated. This helps lower the pressure on the discs. The procedure generates negative pressure which promotes flow of water, oxygen and essential nutrients into the disc.
In a surgery called "spinal fusion", the damaged disc is removed and graph material is put there. Screws and rods are fastened to the neighboring discs. Sometimes, this accelerates degeneration of the adjacent discs.
Although surgeries help get rid of the pain caused by a damaged disc, risks involved in such type of surgeries cannot be overlooked. It is very important to weigh the consequences before one goes in for surgery. In case the other forms of treatments fail, surgery could be considered as an option to get relief from pain and discomfort of a desiccated disc.
Disc desiccation is almost always the first indication of disc degenerative disease. An MRI helps detect a desiccated disc. A CT scan or an X-ray can also detect damaged discs. It is very important to provide timely medical attention to a desiccated disc.
Although the mentioned treatment options may provide some relief, it is best to go for treatment under the guidance of an experienced practitioner.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.