Cervical degenerative disc disease is a condition in which the discs supporting the vertebrae in your neck start to deteriorate. The degenerative process could have been triggered by an accident or injury, but it’s most commonly due to aging. The discs often weaken from normal wear and tear.
You have six cervical discs between the vertebrae in your neck. They cushion the bones when your neck moves.
When you’re a child, your discs are about 85% water, providing adequate cushioning between the vertebral bones. As you age though, the discs lose some of their water, making cracks and tears more likely to occur. Because the discs don’t get a direct blood supply to bring nutrients and oxygen, a tear may not heal properly. If it does heal, it may develop weak scar tissue that may tear again.
In addition to your spinal discs, your vertebrae also have joints, called facet joints, that allow you to move your neck. As part of the body’s aging process, cartilage can begin degenerating and your discs may start rubbing against each other. When this occurs, your condition is considered chronic.
Experts estimate that 90% of adults over the age of 50 have some degree of cervical disc degeneration. It affects everyone differently, and some people never develop symptoms.
Symptoms of disc problems in your neck
The following are common symptoms of cervical disc degeneration:
If your neck feels stiff along with low-level discomfort and it doesn’t resolve, you may have the condition. You could also experience more intense pain that can last hours or even days. The pain may increase every time you move your neck, which can make your condition debilitating.
Radiating nerve pain
You may have pulsating pain that radiates from your neck to your shoulder and down into your arm, hand, or fingers. The pain is usually on one side of your body.
Your arm, hand, and/or fingers might go numb or feel very weak. You may also feel tingling sensations.
Diagnosis for degenerative discs in the neck
Your doctor at South Texas Spinal Clinic reviews your complete medical history and performs a physical examination. You’ll be asked to move in certain ways to see how much your range of motion is impacted and what type of movements cause pain.
If your pain is severe and/or you have other nervous system symptoms, your physician orders appropriate tests, which can be an X-ray or MRI. In certain cases, a CT scan may recommended. The tests help determine the root causes of your symptoms -- for example, a herniated disc, osteoarthritis, or spinal stenosis.
Treatment of degenerative cervical discs
Your doctor employs a variety of treatments depending on your specific condition. You may need to scale back on sports and physical activity for a temporary period to let your discs rest and heal. You can take over-the-counter pain relievers on a temporary basis. Making sure you’re in an ergonomically correct position when you’re working on the computer can help relieve the stress on your neck discs. Pain often resolves with rest if your condition is not severe.
Treatment also includes gentle exercises and/or physical therapy to increase your range of motion. The exercises build up your neck muscles which help support your neck, thus lessening your pain.
If your pain is unmanageable, your doctor may decide to administer a steroid injection or prescribe cortisone pills.
When nonsurgical methods don’t work, which is fairly rare, your doctor decides what type of surgery is going to benefit you, and goes over the pros and cons.
Call one of our offices in South Texas or book an appointment at our clinic for expert care and treatment of degenerative disc conditions.