What is a Degenerated Disc?

Houston Area Chiropractor Comments: A report from your doctor that you have a “degenerated disc” can sound scary until you realize that lots of people have degenerated discs and it does not mean surgery. It is important to understand how the disc works in the low back, how it is injured, and how it can be safely treated, to get the best results with your condition.

So what is a disc? A disc is nothing more than cartilage similar to the cartilage in your knee. Cartilage covers bones and connects them allowing a joint to be formed. Cartilage and ligaments are what make motion possible but they also restrain movements that are too large. In the case of the spine, there are 24 individual bones called vertebrae. The disc is a cartilage that connects each of these vertebrae.

The disc can be injured just like a knee or an ankle can be sprained. The injury will stretch the ligaments and cartilage and cause them to tear. Whenever the body is injured, inflammation follows which serves to begin the healing process. Damaged tissue is consumed and scars are laid down.

In the case of the disc, the degeneration is usually at the back portion of the disc, because that is the location of the original injury. The disc also contains a more watery center called the nucleus. When injury to the disc occurs, the joint does not move properly. Lack of movement can be just as detrimental as too much movement. With this lack of motion there is less movement of water, in and out of the nucleus. The nucleus then dehydrates and the disc begins to collapse under the weight of gravity.

You were likely shown an x-ray of the degenerated disc and told that the space between the vertebrae is smaller because the disc material is degenerating. An MRI or CT scan can also show the degenerated disc. However, it does not mean that you need surgery.

The body is meant to handle degeneration of the disc and many people do quite well despite what an MRI or x-ray may show. Other patients have a bulging of the disc along with the loss of height. This bulging, called a herniation, can press on the nerve and cause back or leg pain (sciatica).

If the pressure within the disc can be lowered, then it is possible to create a vacuum that draws the bulging disc away from the nerve. Decompression treatment uses this effect as a treatment for back pain and leg pain caused by a degenerated disc.

Dr. Ward Beecher practices at Beecher Chiropractic Clinic at 1001 Pineloch, Ste 700 Houston, TX 77062. You can schedule an appointment at BeecherChiropractic.com or by calling (281) 286-1300. If you have any questions regarding this blog, please comment below!