They say that nothing lasts forever. This could not be truer when discussing the human body. We spend years “torture testing” our bodies, with repeated turning, bending, and twisting.
As with anything, time and use take their toll on every part of us. Your neck is certainly no exception. One such toll is known as Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease.
Another factor that comes into play and affects our bodies are our lifestyle choices. diet, exercise, weight, and smoking all play a part.
Knowing what affects our spines and how to reduce the risks is a great first step to a healthier neck.
Understanding Cervical Discs
Before delving into exactly what Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is, let’s look at cervical discs. We have a total of twenty-three discs total in our spinal columns.
Of these, six are known as cervical discs. Each of these six discs are made up of flexible, tough outer woven cartilage strand layer. These layers are called the annulus fibrosus.
Additionally, there is a soft interior that is filled with nucleus pulposus, which is a mucoprotein gel. This is the substance that gives your cervical discs their natural shock absorption property.
What Is Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
While Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is not technically a disease, it is severe condition for many people.
Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease can be recognized as the breakdown of disc in the upper spine. This typically starts as small annular tears, which eventually creates scar tissue.
The cervical (upper) spine needs to be both flexible and equally strong. This puts an immense amount of pressure on the discs.
This continued pressure, in addition to protein and water loss in the discs, also contributes to Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease.
What to Look For
It is estimated that the majority adults suffer from symptoms of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease, even if they do not display any of the symptoms.
Some of the signs to be aware of when determining if you have Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease are the following:
- Bulging Discs
- Collapsed Discs
- Herniated Discs
- Localized Neck Pain
Symptoms may also be noticed radiating throughout the arms, shoulders, hands, and fingers. There are more specific symptoms that relate to Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease.
- Burning/Shooting Pain Down the Length of the Nerve
- Tingling and Numbness
- Muscle Weakness
- Impairment of Motor Skills
Detecting and Diagnosing Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
As already stated the majority of adults are already show signs of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease.
Most doctors will start with a thorough medical history. They will want to know about your symptoms, how severe they are, and what you have already tried to help with the pain.
If you are exhibiting some of the symptoms doctors have options to further detect and diagnose you.
If you have more advanced Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease, then a standard X-ray can show a reduction in disc height or the collapse of the disc(s). A more comprehensive testing is done with the use of a MRI.
How to Manage the Pain?
While the pain that comes from Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease can be severe there are ways that you can help alleviate some that pain.
Hot and Cold Compresses – as with certain other injuries, applying either a heated gel pack or an ice pack to the painful area may offer some relief
Medication – an anti-inflammatory plus over the counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen, can help alleviate pain and inflammation (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications include ibuprofen and naproxen)
Physical Therapy/Exercise – some form of exercise and stretching can increase the strength and flexibility in the neck, lowering the risk of damage and/or pain
Manual Adjustments – seeking the care of a chiropractor to manually adjust your cervical spine can assist in the improvement to the range of motion and pain reduction
In more severe case, and as final option, there are surgeries that repair the damage from Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease.
The healing time after surgery will be much longer. Most people who choose the surgical option take anywhere from 30 months to a year to fully recover.
Nicotine and Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
While the correlation between smoking and certain health issues is well known, one might not be aware of how or why smoking would affect your neck health.
The use of nicotine negatively affects almost all tissue within the human body. What has been well established through years of research is direct affect of nicotine use on the intervertebral discs.
There has been evidence to suggest nicotine being one of the causes of cell damage, occurring in the annulus and nucleus.
In addition to the direct damage smoking can cause, the use of nicotine can increase pain sensitivity in some people.
Ways to Stay Healthy
Whether you are trying to avoid undue damage to your discs, or working on recovery, there are several steps you can take to help ensure healthier cervical discs.
- Regular Exercise
- Eat a Balanced Diet
- Practice Good Posture (neck straight & back supported)
- No Smoking
While the majority cases of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease are due to age, many lifestyle practices can be a factor.
Making sure you keep your spine as healthy as possible is always important. And while the pain from Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease can always return, you lower the chances by staying healthy and making good lifestyle choices.
For most sufferers it has been found that the non-surgical treatments are quite effective in relieving the pain from Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease.
And unlike other age induced health issues, neck pain may come and go. In the majority of adults, it is not a constant problem. It is unlikely that it will last forever.
Education is a key factor in both avoiding and caring for Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease. Your doctor can help you better understand this condition, which can aid in helping you eliminate certain risk factors. Practicing a spine healthy lifestyle is the first step living more pain free.