Researchers determine possible contributing factors to disc degeneration

Aug 3 2011
Scientists recently published the results of a study on intervertebral disc degeneration in the journal Spine, which could have implications for the treatment of degenerative disc disease.

The scientists intended to find the rate of disc degeneration by examining the spines of 433 donors soon after death, using magnetic resonance imaging techniques. They found that degeneration occurred quickly at the bottom of the lumbar spine, in both men and women, and concluded that further investigation is needed to determine why.

The report indicates that sagittal alignment may be a factor in disc degeneration. Sagittal alignment is the way the spine is lined up with the hips and the rest of the body. Researchers also indicated that facet joint arthritis may affect degeneration.

The facet joints connect pairs of vertebrae and make it possible for us to bend backward. Reduced motion in these joints due to arthritis, disc degeneration or other causes can significantly restrict the body's range of motion or cause back pain and discomfort.

Degenerative disc disease and facet joint arthritis can both cause back pain, and difficulty with the spinal discs may increase pressure on the facet joints or vice versa. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, degenerating discs can be a cause of severe back pain that impacts an individual's daily life. In extreme cases, it may require surgery or lead to further spinal problems like disc herniation or stenosis.

The condition is frequently caused by aging and accumulated wear on the joints and discs over time, which can weaken ligaments that hold discs in place and increase pressure on each part of the spine when an individual component, such as a disc or joint, weakens.

Disc degeneration can cause back pain at varying intensities over time depending on how severe it is, and as the disc material weakens a spinal injury such as twisting or even a minor strain may cause disc herniation or otherwise worsen the spine's condition.