Spinal degeneration is a breakdown of the integrity of the spine, usually accompanied by another disorder or problem in the body. Disorders such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, bulging or herniated disc, can all have spinal degenerative properties and lead to other symptoms. Spinal degeneration is most commonly symptomatic in the lower back where postural stresses and spine pressure is most prevalent.
Understanding Spinal Degeneration
To understand how spinal degeneration and disc degeneration cause back pain we first need to know some anatomy about our backs. Your spine consists of individual bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae stack together to make your spinal column. The spinal column supports your skeletal structure, protects the spinal cord, and still allows free motion of the back. In between every stacked vertebra is an “intervertebral disc”, these discs are made of cartilage and act as shock absorbers for the spine.
Spinal degeneration is when the integrity of the spinal column is compromised and begins to deteriorate. One typically would see decreased joint spaces, loss of movement, stiffness, osteophytes (bone spurs), decreased bone health, and loss of spinal alignment.
Symptoms of Spinal Degeneration
The pain associated with spinal degeneration is usually mild, dull achy pain. The pain is usually brought on because of inflammation similar to how arthritis would affect other joints. Spinal degeneration itself will not typically cause high levels of pain, intervertebral disc degeneration however, can.
Disc Herniation from spinal degeneration
Disc degeneration is the breakdown of these cartilaginous discs within the spine, and frequently occurs as the base of the neck and the low back. If the integrity of the disc becomes so poor that it no longer can support the stress put onto the spine, it can herniate or rupture. A herniation or rupture is when parts of the disc extrude or bulge outward into the surrounding space. But how does this translate to back pain? Not only are there nociceptors (pain receptors) within the outer edge of the intervertebral disc itself, which can cause pain, but many bundles of nerves that travel out of the spinal column to the rest of the body can be found in the surrounding space as well.
When the disc ruptures and pushes outward against the adjacent nerve bundles, compression of the nerves translate to pain. The pain due to disc herniation and rupture will feel like a deep, sharp, burning sensation and will often radiate outward into the arms or legs. Sciatica would be an example of nerve compression disorder, that can be caused by disc herniation.
Prevention of spinal degeneration
Most people believe that these degenerative disorders are linked to aging and that they cannot be prevented. While aging is a risk factor for spinal degeneration, consistent chiropractic treatment may prevent and slow the degenerative process and limit any of the symptoms associated with it.
Movement based exercise such as yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi may also help those suffering from spinal degeneration by keeping fluent motion of the joints in the spine. Maintaining flexibility, core strength, and good nerve health should be your focus when dealing with spinal degeneration. Try boosting your Vitamin B6 consumption to promote nerve health.
Spinal degeneration can be a lifelong problem, knowing your condition can be the difference between a severe health problem or some minor lifestyle changes. Be sure to get properly assessed by an appropriate health care professional. Once the degeneration becomes more severe it’s very difficult to repair, prevention is very important.
FAQ’s About Spinal Degeneration
What is the difference between a disc herniation and a ruptured disc? Disc herniation and a ruptured disc are just two names used to describe the same condition.
What is the difference between a disc bulge and a herniated disc? A disc bulge is usually the precursor to a herniated disc. A disc bulge occurs when the disc pushes against the ligament that surrounds it. They are easy to identify on an MRI and are quite common despite often showing no signs of pain.
On the other hand, a herniated disc occurs when the soft, inner material squeezes through the ligament surrounding the disc and ruptures. This can cause significant pain from not only the tear in the ligament but from the inner material putting pressure on the nerves surrounding it. This will often cause symptoms of numbness and weakness in the areas supplied by the nerve.
What is referred pain?
Referred pain is often associated with disc herniation’s, where pain can be felt in the extremities such as your leg, when the actual cause of pain is from your spine.
The symptoms of referred pain are often described as deep, burning or aching pain.
It is important with referred pain to address the cause of the symptoms, not the source of the pain itself.