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Spine and Back Health

Disc Problems at 19

12/09/2008

Question:

I just had a MRI done on my lower back and im not sure what to do about the results. The MRI showed that I had Loss of T2 signal within the L3-4 and L5-S1 Discs consistent with degenerative changes. Also at the L3-4 disc space, a central disc bulge is demonstrated. There is no definite annular tear. There is resultant bilateral exit foraminal as well as mild relative spinal canal stenosis. And Central disc bulge L5-S1 noted... My doctor mentioned something about disc hydration but i just do not understand. How could i help hydrate the disc?..Drink more water? Im only 19 and i dont want to end up having back surgery this young. Is there anything i can do to help hydrate the disc or help the healing prosses? And is there anything i can do to help the pain?

Answer:

Hello, thank you for your question. Spinal discs tend to dehydrate as part of the process of wearing out. Normally, in a healthy disc, the water keeps the disc material soft and resilient, so it can deal with the stresses we put on our backs. Drinking more water won't really do anything to change what's happening to your discs, although it's always a healthy thing to drink plenty of water.

You didn't mention anything about yourself other than your age - if you smoke, you MUST stop smoking (it directly damages the discs in the spine, among other problems). If you are overweight, you MUST lose weight. If you regularly "abuse" your back (either through heavy, grinding manual labor or aggressive sports activities or other high-strain physical activities), you need to figure out a way to ease up on that. There isn't too much else I can tell you without a full physical exam and medical history. The rest of it, including what to do about the pain, you should work with your physician to figure out. Good luck to you.

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Response by:

David J Hart, MD David J Hart, MD
Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University