Disc Desiccation – Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Disc Desiccation

The spine is a vital part of the body that facilitates daily movements and helps perform most activities. It helps us maintain a good and upright posture and gives the body support and structure. Since it comprises many components that make it very complex and helps carry out many functions, it is also prone to be affected by many conditions. Among them is disc desiccation. In this article, we will look at the causes of the condition, how you may prevent it, its treatment, and a lot more.

What is disc desiccation?

Disc desiccation means the loss of hydration within the spinal intervertebral discs to make them more prone to degeneration. The condition plays a role in causing degenerative disc disease, which results from cumulative spinal wear and tear. As one ages, it is very typical to develop desiccated discs. The discs become smaller than usual and tend to become less flexible because of dehydration.


Keeping the spinal discs healthy is imperative for the spine to remain healthy. However, even spines that are well taken care of can suffer natural degeneration. Desiccated discs mostly come about due to aging and related lifestyle choices. Young people can also develop the condition. Causes that can speed up the condition are;

  • Trauma or accident that damages part of the spine.
  • Increased weight which strains the spine and its components. As a result, they work harder to accommodate and distribute the body’s load along its axis.
  • Sudden weight loss can cause a significant loss of the intervertebral disc fluid.
  • Smoking.
  • Repetitive movements that strain the back, such as heavy lifting.
  • Lack of regular spinal movement can cause fluid loss, especially for people leading a sedentary life that involves a lot of sitting and less activity. The spinal discs have no vascular supply, and fluid replenishment is only attained through movement.
  • Lack of enough hydration reduces the body’s and disc fluid levels.


Most of the symptoms suffered and their severity depend on what part of the spine is affected. The affected part results in pain. For example, an affected cervical spine causes neck pain. Affected lumbar spine causes pain in the lower back. If the affected discs press against a nerve, the pain can be radiated to other parts.

Additional and possible symptoms include;

  • Weakness.
  • Stiffness.
  • Numbness. 
  • Reduced range of motion.
  • A burning sensation.
  • Sciatica.


Most people will find out about the condition after a doctor’s or a spine specialist’s visit, usually, because of the back pain suffered. Professionals will inquire about previous conditions and possible surgical conditions. They will want to know more about your pain by asking;

  • The type of pain you are experiencing.
  • When it began.
  • When or what makes it feel better.
  • What worsens it.
  • How occasional the pain is.
  • If it radiates to other parts.

Having gathered all the information, they will perform a physical exam for a more accurate diagnosis. They may feel your back, hands, and legs during the exam to determine if the pain is radiating. They can move your hands and legs to determine any decreased movement and to test your muscle strength. Deep tendon reflexes and limb sensation can also be done. All this information will help them figure out the affected area.

Additionally, an X-ray, CT scan, or an MRI may be ordered. These tests look directly into the spinal bones and their structure. That includes the disc size and irregular shape. Usually, desiccated discs appear smaller or thinner. The bones can show some damage where they have been in friction.


The occurrence of desiccated discs is gradual and occurs over the years. Once diagnosed with desiccated discs, the treatment goal is primarily to mitigate future fluid loss and preserve any remnant fluid. If desiccated discs are not causing any significant pain or affecting your daily life, treatment may not be necessary. Remedies may include;

  • Administration of medications that can help relieve pain.
  • The use of steroid injections to relieve pain and lessen inflammation.
  • Avoiding uncomfortable or painful sitting positions.
  • Practicing good posture.
  • Using braces around the neck, especially when doing any heavy lifting.
  • Physical therapy and exercises to increase back muscle strength, for example, core exercises.

Surgery can be considered where the mentioned methods are not effective, and the following procedures are possible;

  • Spinal fusionthis is the joining of the vertebrae that surround the desiccated disc. It stabilizes the neck and also helps avoid movements that can cause discomfort or worsen the pain.
  • Decompression- this involves the removal of extra bone or disc material that has shifted out of place to create more room for spinal nerves.
  • Correction– this will entail doing repairs that can correct an abnormally curved spine. It can assist in relieving pain and increasing motion range.
  • Implants– this will involve the placement of artificial discs or spacers between vertebrae to prevent friction.


If surgery is to be done, it is always crucial to consider the best option suitable for one’s condition. 

Where possible, taking necessary steps to prevent desiccated discs is essential. Some preventative methods which are also good for your general health include;

  • Staying hydrated allows the body and the spinal discs to retain enough water.
  • Not smoking as smoking can affect the discs to increase the chance of degeneration.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to prevent extra pressure on the spine.
  • Regular exercising strengthens muscles and bones and also promote an excellent spinal or back motion range.
  • Taking precautions to avoid spinal injury or trauma.

The spine’s anatomy

To better understand this condition, understanding the spine is essential. The spine is made up of bones known as vertebrae. In between the vertebrae are small discs referred to as the intervertebral discs. They hold the spinal bones together and hold the cartilaginous joints to help the spine move differently with flexibility. 

These discs are also filled with a fluid-like substance that helps prevent the spine from natural shock and prevent the vertebrae from constant rubbing during movement. Intervertebral discs that cannot efficiently perform will result in affected vertebrae impacting the overall spine. The spine’s curvature gives it strength and helps in the even distribution of mechanical stress.  

Major spine sections:

  • Cervical spine- this refers to the neck area, and it is formed by the first seven bones of the spine.
  • Thoracic spine- this refers to the mid-back and is formed by the twelve bones below the neck.
  • Lumbar spine- this refers to the lower back, which is formed by five bones found below the thoracic spine.
  • Sacral spine- it is formed by the five bones found under the lumbar spine.
  • Coccyx- this is the most bottom part of the spine. It is made up of four bones that support the pelvic floor.
parts of human spine

Final thoughts

Disc desiccation is a common and normal condition that naturally occurs as one ages. Mainly, it causes pain along the spine, which may also be radiated to other parts. For an accurate diagnosis, it is essential to have a doctor’s consultation. You can be presented with the best treatment options. Additionally, taking precautions and any necessary lifestyle adjustments to prevent the occurrence in earlier life and prevent worsened pain for those with the condition is crucial.

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