Things that Make Degenerative Disc Disease Worse

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Bending can make degenerative disc disease worse. (Image: g-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images)

According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease but instead refers to a condition in which pain is produced by a damaged intervertebral disc. CSMC states that almost everybody's spinal discs undergo some wear and tear over time, although certain factors may speed disc degeneration.

Smoking

Smoking cigarettes can make degenerative disc disease worse. According SpineUniverse.com, smoking can significantly affect disc health and the rate of disc degeneration by reducing the amount of water in the discs. Water in the discs absorb movement and impact. With less water content in the discs, intervertebral discs wear out sooner. Smoking worsens degenerative disc disease due to the chemical composition of the cigarette's active ingredients, increasing the rate at which spinal discs lose height, diameter and mass. Smoking also increases the risk for and the rate of problematic arthritic changes in the spine. While most people in western societies experience some degree of osteoarthritis with aging, smokers are likely to experience symptoms of advanced arthritis earlier in life.

Sitting, Bending and Twisting

Sitting, bending and twisting can make degenerative disc disease worse. The Mayfield Clinic, one of the world's largest neurosurgical practices, advises that sitting is a common cause of degenerative disc disease-related pain, due to the significant amount of pressure and weight placed on the spinal discs in the sitting position—a position that places more stress on the spinal discs than either standing or lying down. NeckSolutions.com states that there is an association between periods of sustained, elevated spinal disc pressure—which occurs in the sitting position, especially the slumped position—and degenerative disc disease. The Mayfield Clinic also notes that bending or twisting activities usually make the pain of degenerative disc disease worse, and that lying down tends to relieve back pain or discomfort. Walking or running may also help temporarily relieve symptoms.

Progression of Medical Conditions

The progression of certain medical conditions, especially osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, may make degenerative disc disease worse. According to the Mayfield Clinic, along with age and injuries, osteoarthritis—itself a degenerative condition—contributes to degenerative disc disease. Medtronic.com explains that spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease may lead to disorders such as lumbar spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the canal through which the spinal cord runs, and spondylolisthesis, the slipping forward of a vertebra relative to the vertebra below. Some cases of degenerative disc disease and spinal osteoarthritis may cause back pain and other cases may not. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that osteoarthritis can affect any of the body's joints, including the intervertebral joints, which contain the cartilaginous spinal discs, and can cause pain, inflammation, swelling, stiffness and decreased range of motion in that joint.

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