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What is Disc Desiccation & How is it Treated?

What is Disc Desiccation?

The intense deterioration of intervertebral discs which are present in the spine is known as disc desiccation.1 The deterioration of disks increases with age, while gradual disc desiccation is to an extent an ordinary part of aging. It occurs due to substitution of hydrophilic glycosaminoglycan within the nucleus pulposus with fibrocartilage.

What is Disc Desiccation & How is it Treated?

Is Disc Desiccation a Painful Experience?

The deterioration condition following disc desiccation can be extremely painful. You should not ignore the initial symptoms of back pain, since it is the earliest sign of extremely dangerous degeneration. You can control the rapid deterioration of disc and prevent extremely dangerous complications and surgeries following initial symptoms by consulting Primary Care Physician or Specialist. Here are some important points regarding intervertebral discs. A flat disc is present between two adjacent bones in your spinal column, known as vertebra. The discs act as shock absorbers and cushions, hence protects your spine. Annulus fibrosis that surrounds the jelly like nucleus pulposus makes the disc tough. Loss of fluid in the discs causes disc desiccation, hence the condition is diagnosed as disc desiccation. Disc desiccation comes from two terms, diskos in Greek meaning disc and desiccar in Latin which means to dry up.

What are the Causes of Disc Desiccation?

Natural aging process is the main cause of the condition of disc desiccation. A section of the fluid in your disc disappears as you grow older, the condition is known as disc dehydration. However, symptoms of partial disc desiccation is experienced by most people throughout their lifetime. The most individuals over 60 years of age suffered from the condition of partial or complete disc desiccation. Some suffering with partial disc desiccation may remain asymptomatic. Trauma and repeated strain or injury of the back and disc may promote early development of disc desiccation. However, the post traumatic disc dehydration resulting in disc desiccation is one of the main causes of back pain in young people.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Disc Desiccation?

The signs and symptoms of disc desiccation like moderate to severe pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in extremity muscles can either occur gradually or quickly after an injury. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Reflexes change in extremities can be a symptom of disc desiccation.
  • Discomfort or pain is a sign of disc desiccation.
  • Pain in the spine or back, often observed during or following movement of back, which is the early sign of disc desiccation.
  • Weakness, numbness or tingling sensations are also signs of disc desiccation.

How is Disc Desiccation Treated?

You can reduce the pain caused by the condition of disc desiccation by doing various activities. You should talk to your doctor about treatment choices, including the ones shortlisted here. Nevertheless, some of the therapies mentioned below do not have permanent or long lasting symptom relief outcomes.

  • Massage Therapy- Massage therapy can help in relieving the pain caused by disc desiccation. You can take pressure away from the area affected by relaxing associated paravertebral muscles.
  • Physiotherapy- Physiotherapy or physical therapy can help in treating disc desiccation. You can relieve pain by performing regular exercises which strengthen muscles surrounding your spine. You can also have ice and heat therapies.
  • Medications- Medication can help in reducing the pain of disc desiccation. You can have some temporary relief by taking pain killers and relaxants. However, you should only take the medicines which are prescribed by your doctor.
  • Weight Loss- Weight loss can help in treating disc desiccation. If you have excess weight, shedding the extra weight relieves pressure on the affected disc. You should take a healthy diet and exercise daily, but avoid high impact activities that are strenuous to your back.
  • Chiropractic Therapy- Chiropractic care can treat disc desiccation. Chiropractors aid in aligning your back via natural methods, evening pressure and relieving muscles though posture fixing. Many individuals have claimed visiting a chiropractor is a basic for treatment of back pain.
  • Epidural Corticosteroid Injection- Corticosteroid medication is injected in epidural space following placing of epidural needle under X-Ray guidance in epidural space. Procedure is performed by Interventional Pain Specialist or Back Surgeon.
  • Surgery- Surgery can be an option for treating severe case of disc desiccation. It is the last option advised, if you have tried all other treatments mentioned above and still experience severe intractable pain. You should seek second opinion or medical advice before deciding to proceed with surgical treatment option. The treatment involves removal of disc and replacement with artificial disc. The back is then fused with plates and plates are anchored to vertebrae by screws. Back fusion is performed after disc replacement to prevent sliding movement of vertebrae over artificial disc. Alternatively as a minimum invasive surgery in selected cases, percutaneously artificial disc with spikes are inserted in disc space. The spike of the artificial disc holds the body of adjacent vertebra and prevents sliding of the disc. Although surgery is good in eliminating pain, it should be the last option.

If you suspect disc desiccation, the initial step is to visit a doctor. Additionally, keep of any activity that will strain your spine. As one gets older, disc degeneration occurs. It is therefore important to seek medical advice during initial phase of the disease about conservative therapies like over-the-counter pain medications, ointments, exercises and stretches. Elderly and retired individual should performed exercises to strengthen muscles supporting your back so as to prevent or postpone the disc desiccation.


Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 25, 2019

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