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Understanding the Symptoms and Risk Factors for Degenerative Disc Disease

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What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a condition in which the discs, located between the individual vertebra, deteriorates and break down. The discs no longer provide support between the vertebrae, which leads to pain and other symptoms.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

The symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

  • Pain which primarily affects the lower back
  • Pain which affects the buttucks and thighs
  • Pain which radiates to the neck, arms and legs
  • Pain that is worse with sitting
  • Pain that is worse with bending, lifting or twisting
  • Pain that is lessens when walking or moving
  • Pain that is lessens when changing positions or lying down
  • Muscle tension or spasms
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities (legs or arms)
  • Weakness of the leg muscles or foot drop
  • Degenerative disc disease can have periods of severe pain that come and go, lasting from a few days to a few months.

    If an individual experiences any of the following symptoms, they are not symptoms of degenerative disc disease but are signs of an emergent condition. The symptoms are:

  • Progressive leg weakness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Unexplained weight loss with pain and neurological impairment
  • Severe, acute stomach pain - to the point that a person cannot stand up straight
  • Fever, that does not reduce with medication, with increased pain
  • Difficulty walking due to numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Please seek immediate medical attention.

    Who is at Risk for Developing Degenerative Disc Disease?

    Aging is the number one risk factor for degenerative disc disease. As we age, the discs between our vertebrae start to shrink, which reduces the cushion-like support. Nearly every individual over the age of 60 may display some sign of degenerative disc disease. Some individuals may experience severe pain while others may have no pain at all.

    Genetics may be a factor as to why some may develop degenerative disc disease. Individuals who have a family member that has degenerative disc disease are at high risk of developing the condition. A family history of back pain or musculoskeletal disorders also lead to increased risk.

    Other risk factors include: obesity, smoking or other forms of nicotine intake, trauma to the spine, overuse of the lower back via heavy lifting, labor intensive jobs or sports; prolonged sitting, poor posture, and weak core muscles.

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