Specializing in Spine, Sports & Physical Medicine

Degenerative Disc Disease, Disc Bulging and Things That Go Bump in the Night!!!

Degenerative Disc Disease | Disc Bulging

What do all of these have in common? They are all scary but are really nothing to worry about. If you are over 30 years of age and have gone into your doctor and complained of back pain more than likely an X-ray was done. If your pain was bad enough and not letting up odds are that you had an MRI of your spine. You were probably told that you had degenerative disc disease or possibly a disc bulge that was causing your pain. Most people would be scared to hear that anything was wrong with their back let along that there was DEGENERATION!!!! So what is degenerative disc disease? What is a disc bulge? Believe it or not, they are a normal part of aging. Yes, that is correct. everyone gets them. Everyones’ back ages roughly the same way. So they are not medical terms to be feared. If you were in your mid 40’s to 50’s and did not have degenerative disc disease and bulging discs you would be an outlier amongst humans.

How Discs Age

When we are children the discs in our spines have a great blood supply. Sometime in our mid to late teens we lose the blood supply and the discs receive nutrition only from the vertebral bones that are they are between. Motion of the spine results in a pumping action in which fluid flows out of the bone and into the discs. This is not a perfect system and as the years go by the nutrient delivery system starts to fail. For some it is at a younger age than others. As the flow of nutrients lessens our discs become more susceptible to the wear and tear of normal day to day activities. An MRI of a young person will show normal discs on an MRI. One of things that spine professionals look for on an MRI of the spine is the water content of the discs. As we get older our discs contain less water. On an MRI less water content makes a disc look darker. This is typically referred to as degenerative disc disease. Sure there are other changes that occur as out disc lose of some of their water content but for the most part the darker disc makes the diagnosis.

Bulging Disc

So let’s move on to disc bulging. As the water content of the disc lessens it is not as strong and it starts to bulge out a little. Imagine a water ballon filled to the brim with water. You can compress only a small amount. Now drain out 30% of that water. What happens? you can now flatten it out more right? Well that is what happens with our discs as they age…..they start to flatten out. When they flatten out they bulge in all directions- front, back, right and left.

So, as you can see degenerative disc disease and disc bulges are a normal part of aging and nothing to fear. So, if your doctor tells you that your discs are degenerating you can say to him or her, “so are yours, but that does not tell me what is wrong with my back.”

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