Is Degenerative Disc Disease Hereditary?

A person from behind holding their lower back and neck, with visible red highlights along the spine indicating areas of discomfort or pain, set in a home environment.

Knowing that you have a genetic predisposition to certain illnesses should not be a reason to panic or lose hope but rather to hedge yourself against their development!

Yes, degenerative disc disease is hereditary, but this doesn’t mean that you are destined to experience the worst manifestations of it. The development of human genetics has led to many discoveries, particularly in the 1990s, about many ailments, including degenerative disk disease. Of course, the never-ending discussing on nature VS nurture reminds us that all hereditary disease is affected by how we love our lives as well. Some factors are non-modifiable, like the genetic makeup of an individual; but others are. Knowing your risk factors and how to decrease them may lower your chance of developing degenerative disc disease, no matter your family history.

Let’s delve into what exactly this hereditary illness is to better understand what we can proactively do about it!

What Exactly Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a medical condition that entails:

  • a structural abnormality of the spine (often in the lumbar spine and cervical spine regions)
  • that this abnormality causes symptoms including back aches and numbness, weakness or shooting pain sensations down one’s spine and limbs (most often caused by the breaking down of an intervertebral disc which is found between the discs between the vertebrae that go around the spinal cord).

Research shows that your chance of getting a herniated disc, for example, also runs in families and studies of twins show that if one twin has a degenerative disc problem, the other twin has a 75% hereditability rate of also developing it!

Is Degenerative Disc Disease Preventable?

The short answer is – yes in most cases! There are certain best practices anyone can employ to make sure that their bodies are in peak physical form which will keep them disease-free, especially when it comes to chronic, degenerative diseases.

There are some non-modifiable, as well as modifiable factors, so read on!

Non-modifiable Risk Factors

So, what is NOT modifiable is:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Trauma

Age is the obvious factor, and everything deteriorates quicker with age, including our spinal discs. In fact, the older you are, the greater your chances of degenerative disc disease – whether you have a genetic predisposition or not!

A genetic predisposition is also non-changeable, and these individuals usually develop this ailment earlier in life.

Finally, trauma to the neck or back is a factor that may play a major role in the development of degenerative disc disease; at least the risk will be greater prior to that injury. Minor injuries are nothing to worry about, but more serious one greatly increase the risk factors.

Modifiable Risk Factors

The non-modifiable factors may be discouraging, but far more factors ARE modifiable! These include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy BMI and avoiding obesity
  • Strengthening weak core muscles to help support the spine
  • Improving one’s posture
  • Standing and walking every hour to avoid long bouts of sitting
  • Avoid high-impact workouts and sports
  • Do not lift heavy things or engage in manual labor

It may sound counter-intuitive, but nicotine (and any kind of smoking) is hazardous to one’s health, as it weakens the entire body and makes on more prone to developing the diseases they are genetically predisposed to.

The other modifiable factors are very much just common sense – strengthen the muscles around the spine, stay active and do not place excess weight on it!

This weight includes your body weight, so making sure you aren’t overweight or obese is the first step to preventing any complications. Likewise, if you do get an onset of symptoms, physical therapy and other treatments will be easier for you to do if you haven’t got too much excess weight to worry about on top of that. Next, one’s posture is the main point of reference when it comes to a healthy spine and spinal discs. If you find yourself sitting at a desk for hours on end, you are not only ruining your posture, but you are weakening your core muscles and causing their slow but sure atrophy, which is highly problematic. If there are no strong muscles to prop up your spinal vertebrae, your discs are in trouble!

Finally, overworking your back muscles can be just as detrimental as letting them get too weak! Sports like hockey, rugby, football, baseball and weight-lifting are all off-limits if you have a genetic predisposition to a degenerative disc disease. Apart from such physical exertions, sports like snowboarding, swimming and even golf aren’t recommended because performing them twists the spine strenuously, and this is definitely counter-indicted as well! The same goes for manual labor and any unnecessary pressuring and twisting of the spine.

What are the Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?

An illustration of a man experiencing back pain.

The most common symptom is pain in the lower back that feels the worst when you’re sitting down. Symptoms are individual and may vary greatly – the pain can radiate to one’s upper legs, especially while sated.

The most common indications are:

  • Lower back or upper leg pain that is worse while seated (as the discs of the lower back are taking an increased load of pressure compared to standing)
  • Worsening lower back pain when bending, twisting or lifting the spine
  • Pain that comes and goes accompanied by tingling in the legs and numbness down the spine and limbs
  • “Shooting” pain down the leg or arm
  • Pain while changing from a seated position to a standing position

The less common, but more severe symptoms include:

  • Loss of bladder control
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Saddle anesthesia (numbness around the genital and anal area)
  • Severe pain, tingling and numbness in the legs

When to see Your Chiropractor

Pain relief is the first thing on one’s mind when experiencing degenerative disc pain, and muscle relaxants and steroidal anti inflammatory drugs are what most people first reach out for. However, getting a licensed chiropractic treatment can not only be more effective, but remove the need for anti inflammatories and hold and cold therapy altogether!

When you know your diagnosis and are a good candidate for seeing a chiropractor, they will safely lead you through several treatment methods. These methods most often entail:

·         Manual spinal manipulation, where the chiropractor will realign the problematic discs with a gentle thrust on your back, relieve the pressure on the pinched nerves.

·         Flexion-distraction, where your chosen chiropractor may perform a stretching technique on a motorized table, which is a gentle, non-thrusting way of aligning discs

·         Massage therapy is another method chiropractors use to improve circulation in the affected area, which reduces the inflammation, increases one’s range of motion and brings relief to a stressed spine.

In Conclusion

Degenerative disc disease is nothing to fear, whether you have a hereditary predisposition or not! There are so many ways of managing the condition, and seeing your chiropractor should be your first port of call (unless it’s counter-indicated by another condition).

Surgery carries the risk of infection, damage to the spinal cord, and recovery may take several weeks or even months.

Chiropractic care is non-invasive, does not lead to complications there is no “recovery time” after an adjustment. The treatment costs are lower and no extra pills or injections are required. So contact us today!

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doctor Slavik | Spine and Disc Center

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