Degenerative Disc Disease

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease in the Neck

Degenerative disc disease in the neck can remain asymptomatic in some individuals. In others, the patient may suffer from muscle spasms and tenderness in the cervical spine, pain in the neck, and referred pain and paraesthesia in the arm, chest, head, shoulders, and in the lower body. Acute inflammation can cause flare-ups of symptoms with more pressure put on spinal nerves in an already narrowed cervical spine. As the discs degenerate further the space through which nerves and blood vessels in the cervical spine have to travel is increasingly diminished, making myelopathy a likely outcome. This spinal stenosis and spondylosis can be exacerbated by the growth of osteophytes, and other degenerative changes in the bones, facet joints, and ligaments of the spine.

Degenerative Disc Symptoms

Disc degeneration leads to stiffness of the neck and back as discs no longer allow the flexibility of movement they did when they were supple and strong. Brittle discs are also more likely to herniate, causing acute pressure in the spine and often resulting in extreme debility and pain. Pain is generally worse at the end of the day, with inflammation and muscle strain building throughout the day for most patients.

Degeration at different levels of the spine

Different discs produce different patterns of symptoms as they degenerate. For example, a weakening of the C6-C7 disc can cause a pinched nerve at this site that results in wrist-drop and altered sensation in the middle fingers, along with tricep and forearm weakness. Disc degeneration at the C4-C5 cervical spine level will generally produce weakness in the deltoid muscles and possible shoulder pain, without numbness and tingling. Pain is usually the first symptom of disc degeneration, beginning intermittently upon strain, and progressively becoming more persistent and finally resulting in chronic neck pain. Muscle weakness and loss of dexterity suggests more serious cervical disc degeneration, and in severe cases there may be evidence of spinal cord compression causing sciatica and back pain with difficulty walking and lower extremity dysfunction.

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Last Updated: 10/09/2010