Early Signs of Degenerative Disc Disease

Your spine is your body’s primary support structure, keeping you upright and holding each region of your skeleton together. It’s an incredibly complex structure built for strength and movement.

There are 33 bones — or vertebrae — making up your spine. Wherever bones meet, they form joints. In your spine, we refer to them as “facet joints.” They provide support and flexibility to your spinal column. 

You also have cushiony discs separating each of your moveable vertebrae, and the discs act like shock absorbers. Unfortunately, as these discs start to break down, you can experience intense pain and difficulty moving.

At Santa Cruz Osteopathic in Capitola, California, Dr. Richard Bernstein has a wealth of experience in treating degenerated discs. As a skilled and compassionate osteopathic physician, he offers the latest in nonsurgical treatment options to reduce your discomfort so you can resume normal activities.

Understanding disc degeneration

The discs separating your vertebrae are composed of collagen. This type of protein exists in most parts of your body. While it’s very strong, it’s also pliable. This enables it to bend and flex as your spine bends and flexes.

However, even though your discs are strong, they can start degenerating — slowly fall apart — over time. This can occur for various reasons, including damage to the discs or vertebrae themselves. They can also deteriorate because of wear and tear or lost moisture.


Whether you sustain an injury from athletics or a traumatic car accident, your discs can suffer damage, too. Your discs are strong, but they’re still soft. As a result, force can cause them to crack or tear. When this occurs, it can cause the discs to irritate surrounding nerves, and bones can rub together, leading to significant pain. 

Herniated disc

If you have a compromised disc, the disc's softer center pushes against the outer, tougher layer, causing pressure. As your condition progresses, the center of the disc can even push all the way through the outer layer, causing a bulge in the disc or the leakage of the soft inner material. When this occurs, it throws off the integrity of your spine and causes pain from pressure on the surrounding nerves. Herniated discs are a leading cause of sciatica. 

Bone spurs

Bones rubbing against each other can trigger spurs projecting growths of bone that can be painful. Spurs on your vertebrae can also be sharp and rough, causing damage to surrounding tissues. Bone spurs can even hurt your discs, leading to damage and making them less effective.

Wear and tear

Your spinal discs take a lot of pressure from the surrounding bones. Since they act as your spine’s shock absorber system, they’re in contact with the vertebrae constantly. And, just like the cartilage in hips and knees, this wear and tear can cause your discs to deteriorate over time. 

Lost moisture

Discs mainly contain collagen and water. But, as you age, your body makes less collagen and the discs gradually dry out, leaving them thinner and less pliable. When this occurs, they can’t absorb the shock they need to, which allows your bones to get jostled more.

Recognizing the signs of a disc problem

Disc degeneration symptoms vary from person to person but often include weakness and muscle spasms, as well as neck, back, and buttock pain. Other symptoms include spine instability and difficulty moving and lifting heavy objects.

Your symptoms can also vary depending on the severity of degeneration. Therefore, It’s essential to get treatment as soon as possible to avoid additional deterioration and increased discomfort.

Finding relief for degenerative disc disease

Dr. Bernstein tailors his treatments to your unique condition and symptoms. His whole-body approach focuses on relieving your pain, improving your mobility, and restoring your quality of life so you can get back to the activities you love. 

Nonsurgical spine care therapies that Dr. Bernstein offers include:

Disc degeneration can be painful and disrupt your life, but Dr. Bernstein can help manage your symptoms and get you moving again.

To set up an appointment at Santa Cruz Osteopathic, call our office at 831-316-1493 or use our online appointment tool to book a visit at your convenience.

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