What Causes Asymptomatic Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease. Asymptomatic degenerative disc disease seen in the MRI scans of patients confirms this. In fact, studies have shown that degenerative disc disease as seen in MRI scans isn’t a painful condition. In imaging scans of patients with no back pain, degenerative discs have frequently been found, and the frequency with which degenerative discs are found increases with the patient’s age.

So if degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease and many people with degenerated discs have no back pain, what causes symptomatic degenerative disc disease? 

Asymptomatic Degenerative Disc Disease

Studies show that degenerative discs are simply a part of natural aging, which is why this condition isn’t always connected to back pain.

In a study of the commonality of degenerative discs among people without symptoms of degenerative disc disease, disc degeneration was found in a large number of asymptomatic individuals, especially older individuals. In fact, asymptomatic degenerative disc disease was found in only 37% of 20-year-olds versus 96% of 80-year-olds.

Yet another study also found that asymptomatic degenerative disc disease is very common among people with no pain. This study also states that degenerative disc disease appears to simply be part of the normal process of aging.

Past studies have also had similar findings. In a 1991 study from the Journal of Neuroimaging, MRI scans were performed on patients without low back pain, and 39% were found to have degenerated discs. Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that in 98 subjects with no low back pain, 52% showed signs of asymptomatic degenerative disc disease on MRI. A 1995 study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, had similar findings regarding disc degeneration in the thoracic spine as well. In this study, 90 asymptomatic adults underwent MRI scans of their thoracic spine and 73% had degenerated discs.

At this point, we know that degenerative disc disease seems to occur in just about everyone, especially as we get older, but the question remains: why do degenerative discs cause pain in some patients but not others?

Annular Tears

Annular tears are the answer to this question. For anyone unfamiliar, annular tears are tears that occur in the annulus fibrosus layer, or outer layer, of the spinal disc. The annulus fibrosus is made up of 15-20 layers of type I collagen and surrounds the nucleus pulposus, the inner layer of the spinal disc. The purpose of the annulus fibrosus is to keep the nucleus pulposus contained. The annulus fibrosis runs diagonally between the vertebrae, connecting them to each other. However, while the fibers of annulus fibrosus tend to run in different directions in order to make it stronger, in the posterior section of the annulus fibrosus, most of these fibers are vertically oriented, increasing the weakness of this area. This makes annular tears most common in the posterior section of the annulus fibrosus.

Annular tears commonly occur during normal, day-to-day activities and movements, especially anything that requires bending forward or twisting. These movements become even more likely to cause annular tears if done while lifting something heavy. Because of how easily annular tears occur, it’s estimated that upward of 50% of adults have annular tears.

The reason why so many people show signs of degenerative disc disease with no pain, while others feel significant pain, has to do with these tears. In some cases, annular tears develop and lead to the leaking of the nucleus pulposus. This leaking can lead to a variety of issues, such as irritation and inflammation of nerves, dehydration (or desiccation) of the spinal disc, flattening of the spinal disc, and more. All these symptoms can cause back or neck pain. They can even cause pain that reaches other extremities, such as your legs, arms, hands, and feet. However, in some people, these annular tears develop but the nucleus pulposus never leaks, leading to what is seen on MRI as asymptomatic degenerative disc disease.   

The Discseel® Procedure

If your imaging tests have shown signs of asymptomatic degenerative disc disease, you should speak with your doctor before deciding what your next steps should be. However, if you’re suffering from back or neck pain related to degenerative disc disease and annular tears, and you’re searching for a treatment option that can provide you with long-term relief, the Discseel® Procedure could be the right treatment for you. 

This procedure is non-surgical, minimally invasive, and is the only treatment known to be able to both seal and heal annular tears, preventing further leaking and providing lasting relief. Using Fibrin, an FDA-approved substance that is used off-label in this procedure, which is known to encourage healing tissue growth in other parts of the body, the Discseel® Procedure allows spinal disc tissue to grow and heal itself.

If you’re ready to get long-term relief from your back or neck pain with a treatment that won’t limit your mobility, apply for the Discseel® Procedure today and find out if you’re a candidate for this transformative, regenerative procedure.

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