What is desiccated disc and how to treat it?

Disc desiccation is a medical condition characterized by dehydration of the intervertebral discs. These make up a soft and flexible tissue located between the vertebrae, which are the bony structures that make up the spine.

Some conditions can cause these discs to lose their composition and elasticity, causing symptoms of varying severity. If untreated, there are patients who can develop complications, such as herniated discs. Read on to learn more!

What are the symptoms of desiccated disc?

The clinical manifestations of disc desiccation are varied and nonspecific. This means that they can occur in many pathologies, so the diagnosis may take a while.

As it affects the intervertebral discs, the most common symptoms are joint stiffness, mild to moderate low back pain, and abnormal sensations (tingling). These can appear episodically over a long period of time.

If this degenerative condition progresses, a herniated disc may occur. This pathology is characterized by intense pain originating in the spine, which tends to extend towards the lower limbs, making it difficult to walk.

Severe low back pain can be due to herniated discs, especially if the pain reaches the lower limbs.

Find out more: How stress can affect our spine

Main causes

Disc desiccation occurs when the fluids that are part of the tissue of the intervertebral discs are lost. These are thus, in a natural way, to acquire the necessary elasticity to support the movements of the spine.

Advancing age is the main characteristic that triggers this degenerative disease. It is an expected event and is related to the appearance of osteoarthritis, a more common pathology.

On the other hand, there are risk factors that increase the probability of suffering a disc desiccation:

  • Having suffered multiple injuries in the column. Something that is common in athletes.
  • Lifting heavy objects constantly. Own to certain work activities.

How can disc desiccation be diagnosed?

The doctor can use the patient's medical history and imaging studies to make a diagnosis. The first aspect includes the personal or family history of problems in the spine, in addition to the characteristics of the symptoms experienced.

Imaging studies are those that allow to establish the definitive diagnosis. Some of the most used are the following:

  • Plain spine x-ray: Although it is inexpensive and emits little radiation, the quality is limited by technique.
  • CT scan: allows multiple images of the spine, although the appreciation of soft tissues (such as intervertebral discs) is not as good.
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance: It is the study of choice to show signs of desiccation and herniated discs. It has the advantages of offering better image quality and not emitting radiation, despite being the most expensive on this list.

Diagnosis is usually made with a multidisciplinary team that may include radiologists, orthopedists, and neurosurgeons, depending on the case.

Available treatments

This aspect depends a lot on the clinical severity of the patient and their particular conditions. Initially, basic measures are often recommended to prevent symptoms from developing, such as improve posture and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Your doctor may order pain relievers, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac or ibuprofen. If these do not work, there are other medications, such as opioids, although their use is highly reserved for severe cases.

Physical therapy is a valid and common option that requires the participation of physical therapists, especially when there are other associated disabilities. Lastly, there are surgical interventions whose indication may be limited, taking into account the advanced age of many patients with disc desiccation.

Find out more: How to treat chronic pain?

Can disc desiccation be prevented?

Avoiding direct trauma and maintaining healthy lifestyles during youth and adulthood are the best methods to prevent cases of disc desiccation. The latter include the following:

  • Do not smoke or reduce tobacco use: sAccording to review studies, this habit is associated with a higher incidence of pathologies of the spine.
  • Exercising regularly: always with a suitable stretch.
  • Comply with a healthy diet and good hydration: do not forget that being overweight and obese increase the risk of suffering from disc desiccation.

Despite prolonged adherence to the aforementioned recommendations, it is likely that some patients will develop the disease. It is necessary to go to the doctor early when the first symptoms begin.

Physical therapy is part of the management of spinal problems. It will be a doctor who prescribes it.

When to go to the doctor?

In case the symptoms appear on a regular basis, it is necessary to plan a medical consultation as soon as possible. The appropriate specialist is the neurosurgeon, although an assessment in the primary care sector may be necessary.

The things that cannot be forgotten to make the best possible use of the visit to the doctor are the following:

  • Remember as accurately as possible how the symptoms occurred.
  • Notify if you have any drug allergies.
  • Investigate if anyone in the immediate family has suffered from spinal diseases.
  • Take laboratory studies or previous reports.

Disc desiccation: a preventable and treatable pathology

Despite the fact that multiple factors affect its appearance, disc desiccation can be managed correctly if attended early. This decreases the chance of developing complications, such as herniated discs.