What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) refers to the anatomical and physiological breakdown caused by wear and tear of the intervertebral disc. Signs and symptoms of degenerative disc disease would be shooting or burning pain in the arms legs hands or feet (radicular pain), numbness or tingling, pain in the neck or lower back or weakness. This process often presents with chronic or long term low level pain with low-level chronic pain with periodic exacerbations or episodes of severe pain. These episodes of more severe pain can start to occur every few years to twice per year to more frequent. They can also cause more damage as the years progress without a treatment to restore functionality of the mechanics.
In between the vertebrae of the spinal column, from the second cervical bone (C2) and the way to the lowest vertebral segment in the lumbar spine L5, there are intervertebral discs. The discs allow for movement of the spine, it serves as a shock system for the spine and most importantly provides a space for the spinal nerve root to live by separating the vertebrae above froth vertebrae below. There is a “pump action” at every disc level of the spine. This pumping mechanism creates a suction to pull food and nutrition into the disc (proteoglycans) and squeezes the disc in order to push the waste out of the disc. This pump is analogous to you eating and drinking for nutrition and hydration and then having a bowel movement or urinating to get rid of the waste. Now imagine if you didn’t eat or drink or had not gone to the bathroom for 4 weeks. You would die. That is exactly what happens to the disc over time from blunt trauma or slowly, from poor mechanics and excessive wear and tear. Before the disc dies it dehydrates (disc desiccation). When the disc dehydrates it breaks down over time. The hard material at the inside of the disc (nucleus pulposus) ruptures through the small cracks and causes a bulge in the exterior fibers and then ruptures out of the cracks creating a disc herniations. Irritation and compression of the nerves can cause mild to severe pain, tingling, numbness and weakness.