Sciatica 3 – Degenerative Disc Disease – Anatomy And Common Causes.

The spinal discs are located between each vertebra of your spine. They act as shock absorbers to the forces affecting the spine. They allow flexibility and aid range of motion. As one ages, the discs can begin to break down. This is a normal process. Almost everybone’s spinal discs break down over time. However, if the wear and tear of the spinal disc is the cause of one’s pain, they are diagnosed as having degenerative disc disease.

What causes piriformis syndrome?

The tough outer shell of a spinal disc is called the ‘annulus fibrosus’ and the soft inner core is called the ‘nucleus pulposus’.

There are a few factors that can cause the spinal discs to degenerate:

  • Drying out: At birth, the spinal discs contain lots of water. However, as one ages the discs lose water and height. Due to the reduction of water, there is a correlated reduction in space and shock absorption between the vertebrae. The vertebrae therefore get closer together and larger forces flow through the spine.
  • Cracking: General movements throughout life, or previous injuries, can cause small tears in the annulus fibrosus (which contain nerves) causing pain. Furthermore, larger tears allow the nucleus pulposus to push through the annulus fibrosus to cause a disc protrusion or herniation. These may place pressure on local nerves.

Signs, symptoms and diagnosis:

Common symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • The pain to be located in the neck, upper trapezius, lower back, glutes or upper thighs. It can also lead to tingling in the lower arms or legs.
  • The pain to increase when sitting and decrease when moving or walking.
  • The pain to increase when twisting, bending or lifting.
  • A reduction in pain when you lie down.
  • The pain to vary – it can be grumbling or severe and can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.

How is it diagnosed?

When assessing if a patient may have degenerative disc disease, your practitioner is likely to ask:

  • When the pain started?
  • The body area in pain?
  • If there is any tingling/numbness/weakness in the arms or legs?
  • If there has been any previous spinal injuries?
  • If there is a family history of degenerative disc disease in the family?

The practitioner is likely to examine:

  • The gait.
  • The spine.
  • The sacroiliac joints.
  • The hips.
  • Local musculature.

References

Web MD, 2017. What Is Degenerative Disk Disease? [Online} Available at: <https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/degenerative-disk-disease-overview#2> [Accessed 02.06.18].

Arthritis Foundation, 2018. Degenerative Disc Disease. [Online] Available at: <https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/degenerative-disc-disease/> [Accessed 02.06.18].