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Degenerative Disc Disease

Neck degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease refers to pain caused by damaged spinal discs.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a general term referring to pain which is caused by a damaged spinal disc. This damage, in turn, is caused by changes in the spinal discs which occur naturally with age as a result of wear and tear. While symptoms and severity of condition vary widely, degenerative disc disease typically manifests as lower back pain and/or neck (cervical) pain.

Degenerative Disc Disease of the Neck

The cervical spine in the neck region is comprised of seven vertebrae or bones which are separated by cushioning discs. These cervical discs act not only as shock absorbers for the body, but they stabilize the neck and allow it to bend back and forth and move from side to side. Over time and with wear and tear, the discs can start degenerating, giving rise to degenerative disc disease, also known as cervical degenerative disc disease. The condition manifests in discomfort, pain, and a loss of mobility that can severely impact one’s quality of life at home and at work.

Symptoms of Cervical Disc Degeneration

The primary symptom of cervical disc disease is neck pain. Additional symptoms include:

  • Reduced flexibility of the neck, especially at the end of the day
  • Stiff neck
  • Shoulder pain
  • Pain radiating down the arm and hand
  • Weakness, tingling, or numbness in the neck, shoulder, and arms

Degeneration of the discs of the neck can also contribute to conditions such as cervical stenosis and sudden disc herniation.

Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment

Treatment for degenerative disc disease of the neck is very similar to treatment for lower back degenerative disc disease. In most cases, the condition can successfully be treated using the following:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy (including cervical traction and/or manipulations of the muscles and joints)
  • Exercises to correct poor posture

If symptoms do not ease with conservative treatments, surgery may be in order:

  • Discectomy surgery (wherein the damaged disc is removed)
  • Artificial disc replacement (insertion of a metal disc in place of the disc removed)
  • Cervical fusion (wherein a small bone is implanted to fuse with the vertebrae above and below) 

How to Prevent Degenerative Disc Disease of the Neck

While the aging process cannot be avoided, there are many lifestyle steps you can take to keep your spine healthy and to prevent associated neck pain. You can reduce the risk of neck pain from cervical disc disease by following these guidelines:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Practice proper posture, including a well-supported back and straight neck
  • Do not smoke
  • Ask your doctor/physiotherapist for neck exercises and stretches which relieve stiffness and improve neck flexibility
  • Use a cervical collar or cervical pillows to support and achieve good neck alignment while you relax or sleep