When the discs between our vertebrae shrink, it is called intervertebral disc degeneration. Unlike lateral disc bulges/herniation which occur spontaneously. With IVD, discs slowly get squeezed resulting in the padding between the vertebrae becoming less.
5 Reasons You Do NOT Want to Have Degenerative Intervertebral Discs
Disc degenerative disease matters because it increases the chances that:
- Bones (to be specific vertebrae) will develop arthritis.
- Inflammatory pain builds up over time as the body tries to heal any irritated discs. “Inflammatory microenvironment is associated with a cascade of degenerative events that may eventually cause discogenic pain.” (Navone, 2016). I refer to this as the wear and repair cycle.
- Reduces our physical height. The main reason that all of us are slightly taller in the morning is that our discs have not been squeezed by gravity overnight.
- Nerve symptoms from compression of any of the nerves as they exit the spine (called lateral nerve root stenosis).
- Age: “It affects 10% of the male population at the age of 50 years and up to 50% at the age of 70 years.” (Kos, 2019) Gravity’s process of “squeezing” our discs is a gradual one. This is why disc degenerative disease is rarely highlighted on x-rays of younger spines (Colombini, 2008)
5 Things Which Pre-Dispose You to Developing Intervertebral Disc Degeneration
“Factors, such as mechanical, traumatic, genetic and nutritional” (Kos, 2019).
- Repetitive mechanical forces.
- Past trauma on the spine.
- Genetics plays a role in the development of disc degeneration.
- Nutrition influences the level of inflammation.
- A high body mass index – the heavier we are, the more compressive forces are put on our spine.
Treatment For Disc Degeneration Disease
With the exception of some spinal operations and regenerative injections (that are currently being developed), there is NO fixing or reversing the shrinking process. Realistically anyone diagnosed with symptomatic or asymptomatic IVD (it doesn’t always cause pain), should try to focus on managing it by preventing it from progressing.
3 Exercise-Based Interventions for Disc Degeneration Management
- Low-impact walking.
- Non-impact swimming.
3 Lifestyle Based Interventions For Disc Degeneration Management
- Nutrition/weight management.
- Healthy sleeping habits.
2 Occupational Based Interventions
- Reducing the amount of time spent sitting down.
- Utilising proper lifting mechanics.
Degeneration is not always a progressive condition, becoming disabled from this condition or pathologies associated with IVD can be prevented!
Small lifestyle or work-based changes as well as incorporating exercise into your weekly schedule can slow down the “natural ageing” of the discs between your vertebrae. A happy spine leads to a happier life.
Kos N, Gradisnik L, Velnar T. A Brief Review of the Degenerative Intervertebral Disc Disease. Med Arch. 2019 Dec;73(6):421-424.
Colombini A, Lombardi G, Corsi MM, Banfi G. Pathophysiology of the human intervertebral disc. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2008.
Navone SE, Marfia G, Giannoni A, Beretta M, Guarnaccia L, Gualtierotti R, Nicoli D, Rampini P, Campanella R. Inflammatory mediators and signalling pathways controlling intervertebral disc degeneration. Histol Histopathol. 2017 Jun;32(6):523-542.