Changes In Spinal Disc Overtime


What Does It Define

The spine is the tree of life. Respect it!!



What is disc degeneration?


Our spine consists of bones called vertebrae which are stacked on one another and has a rubber like disc in between which acts like a shock absorber. As we age wear and repair happens in our entire body. Just like knees and hips go into series of wear and repair, same thing can happen to our spine.


As we age changes in our spinal disc and the structures around it is nothing but our body’s adaptation overtime. Our disc is made up of inner fluid and outer firm surface which absorbs the load and keeps our spine flexible helping us to bend forward and backward and to twist and turn our body. With age these discs dry out and decrease in size which leads to cause friction in between the bones resulting in bone spurs {1}.


What causes wear and repair in the disc?




Because of general wear and repair of the vertebral column small cracks starts developing in the outer firm surface of the disc. Over the period of time these cracks pushes the inner fluid out, which leads to slipping of the disc out of its place. This is called as disc bulge, disc bulge puts pressure on the nerves causing pain in the back or in some cases the pain may radiate down the arm and leg.


Because of aging and constant pressure on the disc, the inner fluid starts dissipating and it starts getting thinner which leads to decrease in the space between the vertebrae. Dried up discs are unable to absorb the shock which in turn gives rise to pain and other degenerative conditions.


What are the symptoms?



One can experience sharp shooting pain going to their hands and legs. In severe cases one can experience pins and needles or tingling sensations in their extremities. In this condition activities of daily living (ADLs) and transitional movements such as sit to stand, turning sideways or in the bed get difficult or can cause localised and radiating pain{1}. Degenerative changes in spine and inefficient strength in the core muscles leads to difficulty in maintaining sustain postures.


How to diagnose it?



Depending upon the severity of symptoms MRI scans and x rays can be helpful to diagnose the wear and repair in disc.


How to treat it?


As this is the age related condition we can’t reverse the process of degeneration at the disc and vertebral level but we can definitely improve the strength of the core muscles which can improve the functional capacity in our daily activities.


To delay the degeneration one can start exercising from early age which will maintain the bone health and core muscle strength. In severe cases steroidal injections and surgery is advised.


Strengthening and flexibility exercises can be started to strengthen the core muscles, basic to advanced level of core exercises considering the specific goals of the patient. Flexibility exercises will improve mobility of your spine and will also help in pain relief.


Aerobic exercises like swimming, walking etc. on a regular basis will help you to maintain your ideal body weight and will delay the degenerative process in the body.



Ergonomics at home, work and how to maintain proper sleeping posture will help you to cut down the excessive stress on your spine.


‘You are only as young as your spine is flexible’-Joseph Pilates.


Wear and repair of the disc cannot be avoided as it is a part of physiological changes along with old age. But you certainly work on the muscles supporting the spine avoiding all the aches and pains caused by degeneration.


References-


1] Vergroesen PP, Kingma I, Emanuel KS, et al. Mechanics and biology in intervertebral disc degeneration: a vicious circle. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2015;23(7):1057-1070. doi:10.1016/j.joca.2015.03.028




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