Cervical degenerative disc disease is a leading cause of neck pain. Nothing is meant to last forever; the human body included. The many years of bending, lifting, and twisting takes a toll on the body in the long run. Due to all the repetitive activities, it’s no surprise that at least two-thirds of people will develop neck pains at some point in their lives.
Cervical degenerative disc disease occurs when one or more discs in the cervical spine begin to break down due to wear and tear. Some patient’s genetic components expose them to accelerated wear and tear. Trauma or injuries can also be a cause of discs degenerating.
Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Anatomy
The cervical spine has seven bones also known as vertebrae, and separating them are discs filled with a cushion like gel. The discs help stabilize your neck and allow it to twist, turn or bend forward and backward. The discs both act as shock absorbers and allow the body to move in the way you want. The human body would be very stiff without the discs. Normally there are six cervical discs which comprise of tough but flexible outer layers.
As age catches up with us, the sp
ongy discs become worn and begin to degenerate. The spaces between the vertebrae reduce and the nerve roots are irritated. The process is known as the cervical degenerative disease. Studies show that discs are 80% water, and hydration is lost with time. The discs offer less cushioning and become more prone to wear and tear due to the loss of water. The blood isn’t directly supplied to the disc, meaning they can’t repair themselves (they get nutrients and metabolites via diffusion). Herniated disc is when a disc break and puts pressure on the spine.
Symptoms of Cervical Degenerative Disease
The symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease vary from one person to the other. The symptoms can be a mild discomfort to chronic neck pain, numbness or weakness that travels to the legs or arms. The common signs include;
- Neck pain: the stiff neck is the most common symptom of cervical degenerative disc disease. The pain can be mild but could rise to severe levels and last for hours.
- Nerve pain: This pain tends to be sharp and is similar to an electric shock. The pain may radiate to the shoulders down to the arms and legs.
- Neurological symptoms in the arms: Patients may experience numbness and weakness in their arms. This may hinder their daily activities such as driving, writing, typing or holding objects.
- Pain worsening with movement: Pain caused by degenerating discs tends to get worse with movement and alleviated with rest. Cervical degenerative disc disease is also associated with trouble in balance and coordination, and loss of bladder or bowel control.
Diagnosis of Cervical Degenerative Disease
Your doctor can use the below methods to diagnose the disease;
- Medical history: The doctor studies the patient’s medical history and also learns about the current symptoms.
- Physical examination: The doctor gives the patient a physical exam by first feeling the neck region and monitoring its movement. If the pain is severe and neurological signs are present, the doctor will conduct an imaging test.
- Imaging tests: When an imaging test is needed to determine the problem then an M.R.I is likely. M.R.I, x-ray or CT scans can determine whether or where the degeneration is happening. They also identify other conditions such as stenosis and osteoporosis that may be causing the symptoms
Causes of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
Cervical degenerative disc disease isn’t a disease, but rather it’s the description of the degenerative process the discs go through. Various factors cause the cervical discs to degenerate, and they include;
Cervical Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a condition that causes the spinal canal to narrow. The narrowing causes disc degeneration leaving spaces between the vertebrae. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that run to your arms and legs. Spinal stenosis mostly occurs in the lower back and the neck. This condition commonly affects people in between the age of 35-60, but young people are not off the hook too. In cases where the condition is severe, surgery is recommended to create additional spaces for the spine and nerves.
Discs Becoming Thin with Age
Cervical discs can become weak and less spongy as you age. A child’s discs contain 80% water, and at the age of 70, the disc contains only 60%. Thin discs mean fewer spaces in between the vertebrae causing other problems like osteoporosis and arthritis.
Some patients may be exposed to excessive wear and tear of discs due to their genres. Genetics can play a fundamental role in some patients developing cervical degenerative disc diseases. You are at a high risk of developing this condition if a close relative has a history of this disease.
Unhealthy Dieting and lifestyle
Your diet speaks volumes about your health. Unhealthy dieting affects not only your spine but also the whole body in general. Avoid foods that cause high inflammation such as saturated fats and sugary drinks. High inflammation levels in the body if unchecked cause dire problems like chronic back and neck pain.
Smoking affects your spine and also destroy vital organs of the body such as the lungs. Smoking also causes life-threatening diseases like cancer. Research shows that smoking kills the vascular structure of the spinal discs and joints. It also decreases the amount of water in the discs causing them to wear and tear quickly.
The condition makes the bones thin making them porous and fragile. This condition is commonly associated with old age, but anyone can suffer from it. Osteoporosis also is known as the silent disease because the symptoms aren’t evident until it’s fully matured. This affects the discs and makes your spine weak.
Treatment of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
There are several steps and strategies to preventing this condition. The first steps are usually home remedies or non-surgical options. The steps of degenerative disc disease prevention or treatment include;
Life Modification and Rest
Some activities may cause more pain to the neck like using a computer screen for long. Give yourself a break from these activities for a few days; this might relieve the pain. Adopt good posture and avoid craning forward while seated. Maintaining a healthy diet is important in the process of treating this disease. Eat anti-inflammatory foods and calcium supplements (strengthens your bones) to relieve that neckache.
Medication or Injections
Over the counter pain, medication such as acetaminophen may be beneficial. Seek advice from a doctor to get the best medication for your condition. Stronger pain medication such as muscle relaxers may be prescribed. Injections can be used to administer the drugs to the affected area directly.
Exercises such as stretching and yoga strengthen neck muscles leaving you with a healthy spine. A physical expert can recommend an exercise regime that meets the specific needs of the patient. By simply strengthening your neck and increasing its flexibility you lower the risk of neck pain. At first, apply ice on the affected area and after sometime convert to the heating method to relieve that pain.
Manual Manipulation of the spine
A chiropractor can manipulate the cervical spine, which may improve the range of motion and reduce the pain. Going by the symptoms a physical examination and imaging test should be conducted before undergoing manual manipulation of the neck.
In cases of symptoms like persistent numbness in the arm, imbalance, or loss in bowel control surgery is recommended. The surgery releases pressure on the nerve to avoid permanent nerve damage. Surgery is also considered when the pain is chronic and isn’t responding to other simple treatments. Results after surgery are good, and the patients feel a lot better.
Cervical degenerative disc disease is a primary cause of neck pain, but it can be treated. Take care of your health as your body is valuable.