Our spinal discs are often referred to as the "shock absorbers" of the spine. These soft, gel-like cushions between our vertebrae (bones in our spine) separate bone from bone so we're able to move freely without pain or stiffness. As we age, however, our spinal discs start to wear down, causing conditions such as disc herniation, bulging discs, and in some cases, ruptured discs, usually in the cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) area. Without this protective cushion, the vertebrae may rub against each other, or may touch the spinal cord or the nerves surrounding it. For some people this can trigger pain and discomfort, such as:
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- "Shooting" pain down the arms and legs
- Pain in the hips or buttocks
While disc degeneration is a natural part of aging—it is not truly a "disease"—the process may be accelerated by trauma, such as from a car accident or a fall. Even simple activities such as bending over or reaching for something can trigger a disc dislocation.
If you are concerned about degenerative disc disease or are experiencing symptoms of concern, talk with your doctor about treatments and therapies available to you. Your doctor may prescribe testing, such as an X-ray or MRI, or a nerve conduction study if nerve damage is suspected. Treatment for pain and associated symptoms of degenerative disc disease may include physical therapy and medication, corticosteroid injections, and in some cases, surgery.