More than 30% of People Aged 40-59 may be at Risk of Degenerative Disc Disease

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Dr. Christian Athanassious of Santa Rosa Orthopaedics talks about results of a new study on spine health affecting patients aged 40-59

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Pain can become quite severe and symptoms may increase over time, lasting days or even months ...

Research published recently in The Spine Journal outlined results of a study where scientists observed CT scans of 1,200 patients, covering decades of records. They reported that one-third of people 40-59 years had evidence of moderate to severe degenerative disc disease. In addition, more than 600 of the patients had moderate to severe spinal osteoarthritis. The team also detected that progression of severe spine conditions occurred much more frequently in women than men, as much as seventy percent more often.

Understanding degenerative disc disease

Spinal discs are located between the vertebrae where they act as shock absorbers and facilitate motion in the spine. Degenerative disc disease is experienced in patients when changes to the disc occurs, adversely affecting normal functions. This can happen as part of the natural aging process, but can also be accelerated by injury or repetitive stress to the spine. “Over time, the discs that cushion the spine naturally begin to deteriorate as a result of years of wear and tear,” explains Dr. Christian Athanassious SRO orthopaedic surgeon. “This phenomenon is more common in the flexible and weight-bearing areas of the spine, particularly in the lower back or lumbar region, and in the neck.”

Each disc along the spine is comprised of a tough outer ring (annulus fibrosis) and a gel filled center (nucleus pulposus). In the case of degenerative disc disease, the outer ring may become damaged and crack or otherwise compress. As this occurs, the gel in the center may leak or be forced out of the disc leading to chronic pain and mobility issues. Deterioration can be gradual, often going unnoticed for years, until the disease causes the compression of a nerve, nerve root or the spinal cord within the spinal canal. At this point the patient may experience a variety of symptoms, including pain, numbness, tingling and stiffness.

"This type of spinal degeneration, including that resulting from osteoarthritis, frequently causes chronic pain as it reduces functionality,” Dr. Athanassious says. “Pain can become quite severe and symptoms may increase over time, lasting days or even months. Patients notice symptoms more with activities such as bending and twisting. And, depending on the location of the affected disc or discs in the lower back, sitting can become a problem as well.”

While many patients with degenerative disc disease see positive results from conservative, nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy and pain medication as well as other measures to control pain, some patients may require more direct treatment with spine surgery.

About Dr. Athanassious and SRO

Dr. Christian Athanassious is the Medical Director of SRO’s Total Spine Health Program. The Total Spine Health Program employs innovative diagnostic testing, minimally invasive surgical techniques, and targeted therapies at our full-service onsite physical therapy center to improve mobility and quality of life. With expert an orthopaedic physician and physician assistant working alongside a veteran physical therapy staff within the same practice, SRO has set a high standard for comprehensive orthopaedic spine care in Sonoma County.

The Total Spine Health Program at Santa Rosa Orthopaedics strives to do everything possible to get patients back to doing the things they love most. When surgery is necessary, Dr. Athanassious carries fellowship training in the most advanced spinal surgery and injection procedures from the prestigious Stanford University. For more information about SRO surgeons and services, visit srortho.com. Call 707-546-1922 to schedule an appointment.

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John Beilharz
@srortho
since: 12/2013
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