Degenerated Disc Disease
Degenerated Disc Disease (DDD)
When an athlete presents with neck pain accompanied by radiating arm pain, one of the things we check for is degenerated disc disease (DDD) in the neck. With this condition, one or more of the cervical intervertebral discs has worn down. In many cases, DDD is a natural part of aging, which may also be influenced by genetics. For athletes, DDD can happen earlier in life due to overuse or injury, which can cause excessive wear on the intervertebral discs.
There are six cervical intervertebral discs, one situated between each cervical vertebrae. These discs are made up of a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus, and a gel-like interior called the nucleus pulposus. Their primary function is to act as a shock absorber within the spine. They provide cushioning between the vertebrae and allow for better mobility.
When DDD is present, the cervical discs begin to lose their hydration and thickness. At first, the annulus fibrosus loses some of its water content, which makes it weaker. The stresses of daily living, and especially training routines and sports, wears it down even more. Sometimes, this leads to facet arthritis, or an arthritis-like condition in the spine.
As the cervical discs deteriorate, it can put pressure on nerve endings in the neck. This is typically where we see symptoms radiate into the arms and shoulders. Patients might report occasional tingling and numbness.
Unfortunately, once a disc has degenerated, it can’t heal on its own. The discs don’t have their own blood supply, so they have no way to repair themselves. But, that doesn’t mean that there’s no way to live with DDD, or even to return to your full athletic potential.
Treating DDD is all about teaching you tools to combat symptoms and protect the disc from getting worse. At MOTUS, we have a lot of effective means to reduce symptoms, like NMES and hot and cold therapy. Our team has a lot of experience in treating DDD, particularly in the neck, which is one of the most common areas for the condition. We can assign a program of stretches to help reduce symptoms over time, as well as exercises for muscle strengthening to help you protect the cervical discs.
Improving life with DDD isn’t just about addressing the neck specifically. It’s about looking at the body as a whole, and teaching it to work as a unit for healthy movement and living.