What is Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
Cervical disc disease develops when one or more of the cushioning discs in the cervical spine begins to break down due to natural wear and tear. Over time, these discs begin to wear down, causing the space between the vertebrae to narrow and the nerve roots become pinched. Despite its name, cervical degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease, but rather a description of the natural degenerative process of the cervical spine discs. This means that most people will develop some symptoms over the course of their lifetime. Cervical degenerative disc disease can occur in any of the cervical discs of the spine. Generally, the onset of this condition is a slow process that develops over the course of your lifetime.
What Causes Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
The natural aging process is a large contributor to cervical degenerative disc disease. However, other factors may cause this condition to develop.
- Herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis
Where Can Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Develop?
Cervical degenerative disc disease develops in the cervical region of the spine (upper back). Any of the cervical discs can be affected by cervical degenerative disc disease, but it is most common in discs of the cervical spine located in the middle of the neck.
Where Is Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Pain Felt?
Because of the location of the cervical spine, the most common associated pain is:
- Neck pain
However, cervical degenerative disc disease can cause pain to radiate from the neck to other areas of the body, such as the arms and legs.
How Does Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Affect the Spine?
In a healthy spine, there is one cervical disc between each of the vertebrae of the cervical spine. These discs absorb shock and prevent the bones from rubbing against each other as the neck moves. As the body ages, these discs lose hydration. This provides less cushion and makes the discs more prone to cracks and breaks. As the discs wear down further, the space they provide between the vertebrae decreases, which can lead to the pinching of a nerve and pain.
What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
The symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease can vary, depending on the individual. The severity of symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable to debleating.
Symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease include:
- Neck pain
- Nerve pain
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms, hands, or fingers
- Pain aggravated by movement and alleviated with rest
What are the Risk Factors for Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
While almost everyone develops cervical degenerative disc disease as they age, there are some factors that can cause earlier development or more severe symptoms.
These risk factors include:
Genetics– Those who have an abnormal disc high or disc bulging are more likely to develop earlier onset of cervical disc disease. In addition to being a factor of when the condition will develop, genetics can also play a role in the severity of symptoms.
Injury to spine– Suffering a previous injury to the spine may accelerate the process of developing cervical degenerative disc disease.
Obesity– Being overweight shows a link with earlier development of degenerative disc disease, as obesity places more stress on the bones.
Smoking– Smoking can hinder nutrients from reaching the discs in your spine. This causes them to lose hydration and degenerate more quickly.
How Do I Prevent Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
Because degenerative disc disease is primarily associated with the aging process, it cannot be prevented in all cases. However, certain measures can be taken to delay the onset of development.
Prevention methods include:
- Avoiding smoking
- Changing positions frequently when sitting for extended periods of time
- Lifting heavy objects with leg strength rather than back strength
- Maintaining correct posture
- Performing at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day
- Staying well-hydrated