Degenerative disc disease is often mistaken as the same as arthritis. This may be because both have a very common symptom: pain in the joints. But they are, in fact, different in terms of pathology, causes, and treatment. Degenerative disc disease or DDD is not considered a disease by itself, but a condition that describes the spinal discs’ normal changes as one age. Arthritis, on the other hand, is a disorder involving inflammation in the joints. To further understand, let’s delve deeper and take a closer look at their differences and similarities.
Degenerative Disc Disease
This condition is also called spondylosis. It is not actually a disease but a general term to refer to changes occurring along the spinal area (that is cervical, thoracic, lumbar) as one ages. The most common DDD happens in the lumbar part. The term “degenerate” is used, because these spinal discs lose flexibility and ability to protect the spine over time. An injured disc cannot repair itself, as it does not have a good supply of blood.
No distinct cause had been established for DDD. The literature shows that genetics has been proven a factor based on studies on twins. Others cite poor transport of much needed nutrients from the body into the discs. Degeneration appears to surface with age and so experts say that it is an innate part of aging, but not all people will experience the symptoms. Since the discs, which act like pillows between vertebrae, are mostly made up of water, the discs dry out and shrink when a person grows older. With water loss, the discs between the vertebrae start to collapse and flatten, a reason why height decreases with age. This can later cause the nerves and spinal cord to compress causing pain.
DDD can be treated by nonsurgical and surgical means. The nonsurgical ways include rest, medication, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, home exercise, pain management, and chiropractic. Other patients may need surgical treatment, the goal of which is to stop the movement of the painful segment to decompress the spinal nerves.
Arthritis is a condition where there is pain in the joints. A joint is a part of the body where two bones meet. It can be inflammatory such as rheumatoid arthritis or degenerative in nature such as osteoarthritis. There are over a hundred types of arthritis.
Arthritis is caused by several factors depending on the form of arthritis. Metabolic abnormalities such as gout, hereditary factors, injury, and various effects of infections are just some of the known causes.
It is difficult to treat arthritis as the disease is quite unpredictable and cases vary significantly from person to person. To ease the pain and slow down the disease’s spread, there are medications that can be administered, but which may be adjusted from time to time depending on the case. If problems worsen despite medication and therapy, surgery can also be done.
So why are degenerative disc disease and arthritis taken as the same?
Both DDD and arthritis are observed together because the body parts involved in these conditions form parts of a three-joint system. It is believed that degenerating discs can place excessive stress on the facet joints which, over time, can lead to the formation of osteoarthritis in these joints. However, each condition can occur separately from the other but in most cases, degenerative disc disease will indeed cause arthritic changes in the spine.