Your spine is made up of many bones called vertebrae. Located between each vertebrae are soft discs called spinal discs. These discs provide cushion, absorb shock and allow us to comfortably bend and twist. They also maintain enough distance between the vertebrae for the nerve roots of the spinal cord to pass through openings in the spine without impingement.

Degenerative disc disease occurs when the spinal discs begin to break down, providing less of a cushion between the bones, often resulting in very severe discomfort and pain. Degenerative disc disease can take place anywhere in the spine, but it most commonly takes place in the discs in the lower back and neck.

Causes of degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease is commonly caused by the natural process of aging, but there are other factors that can contribute to the deterioration of the spinal discs, as well. Some causes and risk factors include:

  • Loss of fluids in the discs – Fluid loss in the discs inhibits its shock-absorbing abilities. Fluid loss results in a thinner disc, creating a smaller distance between the bones that can result in extreme and debilitating pain.
  • Tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer of the discs – Tiny cracks or tears can cause the material inside the disc to protrude (bulge), putting painful pressure on nerve structures. Discs can also rupture or even break into tiny fragments, also causing pressure and pain.
  • Drying out of the disc – As we age, intervertebral discs dry out and, reducing their ability to absorb shock.
  • Daily wear and tear and sports activities can rip parts of the outer core of the disc, creating debilitation damage.
  • Injuries from falls or accidents can cause swelling, soreness and instability.

In addition, these occurrences are more likely to happen to people who smoke cigarettes or perform heavy physical work regularly. Those who are obese may struggle with — or have higher chances of developing — degenerative disc disease.

Signs and symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • Pain that affects the low back, buttocks, thighs or neck, depending on where the affected disc is
  • Nagging pain to severe, disabling pain
  • Pain that worsens when sitting
  • Pain that worsens when bending, lifting or twisting
  • Pain relief performing certain movements like walking, rather than sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Pain relief when changing positions often or laying down
  • Spells of severe pain that come and go, lasting from a few days to a few months before any relief
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities

Tests and diagnoses

Our physicians will discuss your symptoms with you and investigate where the pain, tingling or numbness are coming from. We will also review your medical history, especially falls, injuries or accidents. We will do a complete physical exam that includes:

  • Checking nerve function
  • Using hot and cold stimuli to see how nerves sense temperature
  • Checking muscle strength and stability
  • Checking for pain with motion or touch
  • Your doctor may order diagnostic tests to either confirm a preliminary diagnosis, rule out other conditions or illnesses, or to gain more information. Some diagnostic tests that may be used:
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan)

Once a diagnosis is made, we will work with you to develop the right treatment plan catered to your needs.

The providers at Cedar Rapids Pain Associates understand that suffering from constant back pain is no way to live life. Call the pain specialists today at (319) 540-8251 to schedule an appointment and see how we can help you get relief.