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There are proteins in the disc space which can cause pain whenever they are inflamed. Pain associated with lumbar disc can branch out into the hips as well as the legs and into the foot/toes. And the pain associated with cervical disc space radiates into the shoulder, arm and potentially into the hand. There is a cause of instability and inflammation with degeneration of the outer part of the intervertebral disc which is called the annulus. This in turn causes muscle spasms because the body attempts to stabilize the cervical spine. In a degenerating disc there is also cartilage in between each vertebra which is known as cartilaginous end place which provides nourishment for the disc and once that is worn down the disc starts to degenerate cause the inflammation and the associated instability and pain and if this continues the disc can collapse. Findings in MRI include: disc bulge, annular tear, disc dehydration (the disc will look darker on the MRI where a hydrated disc is whiter in color). The symptoms related to degenerative disc disease include: pain related to activity that flares up and then returns to low levels, chronic pain levels that vary, chronic pain that is very severe is rare, there are some positions that will make the pain much worse such as sitting, the person will feel much better with changing positions often and in reclining position where the legs are lifted by a recliner or a pillow. Other diagnoses should be addressed if the pain is continuous and severe. It is important to keep in mind that the severity of pain that one may have is not related to the total damage that is within the spine or that they may need surgery. There are some discs that are critically damaged but may not be associated with much pain and vice versa.
Lifestyle changes, pain control and exercises and rehabilitation play a part in degenerative disc disease treatment. Pain is caused by instability and inflammation which can be decreased with pain control in order to pursue exercise and rehabilitation. Prior to considering surgery it is important to try non surgical treatments for at least six month timeframe. Exercise is best done under a trained professional such as a Physical Therapist or chiropractor. Lifestyle modifications include supporting the spine through the right ergonomics and posture in addition to stopping smoking, avoiding too much alcohol, keeping hydrated with water, stretching techniques for home and work which can be taught by Physical Therapist.