How can disc desiccation be treated?

The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae, with small fluid-filled disks in between. Desiccation of such disks is a common condition caused by dehydration of the tissues.

The disks in the spinal column between the vertebrae absorb shock and impact, and prevent the bones from rubbing each other.

The spine has five distinct sections:

  • Cervical spine (neck): The first seven bones at the top of the neck.
  • Thoracic spine (mid back): The 12 bones below the cervical spine.
  • Lumbar spine (low back): The five bones below the thoracic spine.
  • Sacral spine: The five bones below the lumbar region.
  • Coccyx: The final four bones of the coccyx are fused together and support the pelvic floor.

Disc desiccation is a normal part of aging. When they dehydrate, the discs can become smaller and less flexible, and therefore can gradually start to break down or degenerate.

What are the symptoms?

Disc desiccation is the dehydration of discs between the vertebrae.
Disc desiccation is the dehydration of discs between the vertebrae.

The effects of desiccation are dependent on the area of the spine affected.

Pain in the neck is caused by desiccating the cervical spine disk, thus desiccating the lumbar disk induces pain in the lower back.

Some signs used to desiccate discs include:

  • stiffness
  • weakness
  • burning or tingling sensation
  • numbness in the legs or feet
  • reduced or painful movement
  • sciatica

Causes

Aging is the most prevalent cause of desiccated disks, although it may also occur in younger people.

Other causes of disc desiccation include:

  • accident or trauma
  • weight gain or loss
  • repetitive movements, such as heavy lifting that strains the back

Diagnosis

A doctor performing physical examination
A physical examination can diagnose disc dessication.

One of the most common causes of lower back pain is disc desiccation and degenerative disc disease. 

Most individuals discover that when they see their doctor for their discomfort, they have this disease. First the doctor can take a history and conduct a physical examination. 

The doctor may want to inquire about the pain in addition to talking about past medical or surgical problems, including: 

  • when it started 
  • what makes it better 
  • what makes it worse 
  • the type of pain 
  • how often it occurs 
  • if it radiates to other areas 

During the physical exam the doctor can feel the back, legs , and arms to decide where the pain either occurs or radiates. 

The doctor can move the arms and legs to see if the range of motion decreases, and measure the strength of the different muscles. Sensation in the limbs and deep tendon reflexes will also be tested. 

All the details can be used by a specialist to find out what part of the back or which individual disc could be damaged. 

After the initial visit, additional testing can be requested, including: 

  • X-ray 
  • CT (computed tomography) scan 
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan 

These tests allow the doctor to examine the bones and anatomy of the spine directly, including the shape and size of the discs. 

Dessicated disks may appear smaller or thinner, and if they rub against each other, the bones themselves may appear to experience some damage.

Treatment options

Exercise may increase back muscle strength.
Exercise may increase back muscle strength.

Unless desiccated discs cause severe pain or interfere with the everyday life, no treatment may be required.

Fundamental home remedies include:

  • avoiding painful or uncomfortable positions
  • using a brace around the back when lifting something heavy
  • increasing strength of the back muscles through core exercises and weight loss
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription pain relievers when needed
  • using steroid injections or a local anesthetic to relieve pain and inflammation

If those steps do not work, surgery may be needed. 

For a desiccated disc, there are several different ways that surgery can improve. Possible processes can involve:

  • Fusion: The surgeon will join together the vertebrae surrounding the desiccated disc. This helps to stabilize the back and prevent movement that can worsen pain or discomfort.
  • Decompression: The surgeon will remove extra bone or a disc material that has moved out of place in order to make more room for the spinal nerves.
  • Correction: The surgeon will make the repairs necessary to correct an abnormal curvature of the spine, if there is one. This can help relieve pain and increase range of motion.
  • Implants: Artificial discs, or spacers, can be placed in between vertebrae to stop the bones from rubbing.

One who is contemplating surgery should locate a specialist on the spinal cord who can provide the solutions best suited for their case. Having a second or third opinion will help one find the right plan.

Prevention 

It is important to take precautions to avoid desiccation and degeneration of the discs. 

Preventative measures methods are good for general health and wellbeing and include the following:

  • Stay hydrated: Not drinking enough water each day can cause the body to function less well or not retain enough water, including the discs.
  • Don’t smoke: Cigarette use can directly affect the discs in the back and increase the rate of disc degeneration.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese puts extra pressure on the back and spine, which can cause the desiccation and decay of the intervertebral discs.
  • Take regular exercise: Participating in regular cardio and weight-training exercises can strengthen the bones and muscles and promote good range of motion in the back. People can ask their doctor or a physical therapist for specific exercises that support the back muscles.

Takeaway

Disc desiccation is an ageing effect normal and natural. Taking care at home and making lifestyle changes will, in most cases, control or avoid pain from getting worse.

If the everyday life of someone is affected, working with a doctor or spinal specialist will help them find medications that can alleviate discomfort or improve their daily movement.

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