What is Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is arthritis in your cervical spine, the neck. The same arthritic disease process due to the normal wear and tear of the ageing process that can affect your knees, can affect the joints in your spine as well. This can occur at any part of your spine from the neck to the low back. On the inside of the intervertebral discs is a gel-like substance that is very malleable and helpful with smooth movement and shock absorption. As we age, this gel-like substance of the intervertebral discs, called the nucleus pulposus, loses hydration and can lose height. This can make the disc more susceptible to tears and other injuries. This is the process of disc degeneration in the cervical spine.
What Causes Cervical Disc Degeneration?
The ultimate cause of Cervical Disc Degeneration is the ageing process. The discs wear out over the course of many years of lifting, turning, and twisting. The cause of pain from this condition is generally from the degeneration of discs affecting structures around them rather than the disc itself because the disc has little to no innervation. Innervation refers to nerve supply. Traumatic events and other systemic conditions may lead to a faster degeneration of discs than would be seen in a healthy individual. Some of the causes that can lead to a sped-up degeneration of a disc are:
- Trauma such as a car or motorcycle accident
- Previous injury to the spine
- Bone spur formation
- Other conditions such as spinal stenosis, Osteoarthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, and Spondylolisthesis
- Rheumatic diseases
- Physically demanding job
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What are Symptoms of Cervical Disc Degeneration?
The symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease in the cervical spine may be:
- Neck pain
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Radiating pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms, hands, and fingers if a degenerated disc is causing a nerve root in the spine to be pinched
- In rare and extreme cases in which a degenerated disc is compressing the spinal cord, weakness in the legs and difficulty walking may be present. If these symptoms are present, medical attention is needed immediately
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Treatments for Cervical Disc Degeneration
Treatment for this condition rarely requires surgical intervention. Conservative measures are generally quite effective in managing this condition. These conservative treatments include:
- Physical therapy in order to strengthen surrounding musculature and teach the patient about proper posture and body mechanics
- Over the counter pain medications and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Treatment with steroids and prescription pain medication may be warranted if over the counter medication fails to relieve pain and inflammation
If attempted and the above conservative measures do not work to improve your symptoms, surgery may be indicated. One of the most common surgical techniques utilized for this condition is a discectomy, which is complete removal of the offending disc. The removed disc may be replaced with an artificial one. Another option that your surgeon may choose after the removal of a disc is to then fuse the vertebrae with the one on top of it, effectively eliminating that disc space.