Disc Dehydration: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments 2023
Disc dehydration is a degenerative process that affects the intervertebral disc. The central portion of this disc is called the nucleus pulposus and is made up mostly of water. Due to its composition, the nucleus pulposus has a gelatinous consistency, which serves to cushion the impact and facilitate the sliding of the bones in the movements.
With disc dehydration, the nucleus pulposus ends up losing its cushioning capacity, as it becomes thinner and more rigid. In addition, the fibrous capsule that surrounds it can suffer cracks, where the liquid can leak and compress nerve fibers that pass through the site, giving rise to the problem of disc herniation.
Disc dehydration is part of the normal healing process. Aging but it can be aggravated or manifest itself early (before the age of 50), if it is influenced by some internal and/or external factors.
For example, spinal overload caused by overweight or the stress generated by repetitive movements can accelerate the degeneration of intervertebral discs.
See more details about disc dehydration, the symptoms it causes, the causes involved and how this medical condition is diagnosed and treated.
What are Intervertebral Discs?
The intervertebral discs lie between the vertebrae of the spine.
To understand what disc dehydration is, you need to know what intervertebral discs are and where they are located.
Our spine is made up of 33 vertebrae, which are the bones that make it up. Between these bones there is a disc, which is important both for the structure of the spine and for its protection.
The disc has a central portion consisting mainly of water and an outer portion, which is more fibrous. The inner part is called nucleus pulposus and has a gelatinous and elastic consistency. The outer ring is more rigid and prevents liquid from leaking out of the disk.
When a degenerative process affects the spine, disc dehydration occurs, i.e. loss of water and nutrients.
With less water inside, the disk is more hard and less efficient in cushioning impacts and mobility of the spine, causing pain and joint stiffness.
Causes of Disc Dehydration
Aging is a natural process of life and affects all structures in our body. Intervertebral discs are structures that are used a lot throughout life, as they cushion any impact generated by movements and mild and severe trauma.
So, over the years, the cells that make up the intervertebral discs and that are involved in the absorption of water and nutrients begin to die, resulting in increasingly dehydrated, rigid and less elastic discs.
However, the natural aging process is influenced by several internal and external factors.
Internal factors concern the genetic inheritance and the structural abnormalities that a person may have in their skeleton. External factors are a set of habits and lifestyle related to food, physical activity, occupation and posture.
Overweight it is a factor that significantly contributes to early disc dehydration, as it overloads and puts pressure on the spine.
As the regions of the cervical (neck) and lumbar spine are the busiest and most involved in supporting body weight, the intervertebral discs of these portions of the spine are the most affected by disc dehydration.
Symptoms of Disc Dehydration
The degenerative process of the intervertebral discs occurs slowly and, therefore, most cases are asymptomatic, being discovered by chance in imaging tests performed to investigate other diseases.
When symptoms do appear, the complaints are mainly of limitation of movements and constant back paindue to friction between the bones and destabilization of the spine.
As the height of the disc becomes smaller, the fibers that constitute it will degenerating and overloading the spine. With this, the person who is suffering from disc dehydration is more vulnerable to developing other problems related to the musculoskeletal system.
Among the possible complications of disc dehydration are osteophytes, better known as parrot beaks and the osteoarthritis in the spine.
Anatomical changes in the spine with the formation of bony protuberances (parrot beaks) or cracks in the disk (herniated disk) can lead to compression of the spinal cord or the nerve roots that come out of the vertebrae to innervate the upper and lower limbs.
When there is compression of the bone marrow or nerve roots, more serious symptoms can manifest:
- Back pain that radiates to the path of the affected nerve, that is, towards the arms or legs.
- Loss of strength or muscle mass.
- Loss of balance.
- Tingling sensation/numbness in arms or legs.
- Impairment of joint movements.
Diagnosis of Disc Dehydration
As soon as you experience symptoms, you should seek medical help.
The diagnostic process of disc dehydration begins with listening to the symptoms reported by the patient and with a survey of his personal work history, practice of physical activity, accidents, and also his family history.
The doctor may also do a physical exam to see how much pain you have and how much movement is limited.
After that, the professional may request imaging tests, which can be an X-ray and MRI, to see how the intervertebral discs and vertebrae are doing.
Disc Dehydration Treatments
With the results of radiological examinations and magnetic resonance imaging in hand, the doctor or orthopedist can identify the severity of disc dehydration and thus prescribe the most appropriate treatment.
Acute disc dehydration crises are treated with analgesics and anti-inflammatories to control pain and inflammation.
If the pain does not improve with conventional medications, the doctor or doctor can block the spine, which is an infiltration at specific points to promote analgesia (fighting pain) and anti-inflammatory action.
In addition to treating the symptoms, it is essential correct the factors that accelerate or worsen disc dehydration.
Therefore, it is recommended to eliminate excess body weight, to reduce the overload on the spine and strengthen the body’s musculature, which can be done in physiotherapy or bodybuilding sessions. In physiotherapy, you can also work on the flexibility and mobility of the spine.
It is also important to take care of your posture. Realize how your posture is in front of the computer, cell phone or any other equipment you use in your work. You might consider making a global postural reeducation (RPG)to correct the bad posture habits.
Surgery is only indicated for cases in which disc dehydration evolves into more complex problems, such as disc herniation or parrot beaks that compress the spinal cord or nerve fibers.
In such cases, nerve fiber decompression can be performed with a minimally invasive spinal endoscopy technique.