Disc dessication is the dehydration of discs between your vertebrae. Symptoms may include stiffness, weakness, and pinched nerves. Treatment options include medications, injections, and therapy.

Your spine is made up of a stack of 33 bones called vertebrae. In between each vertebra, you have a tough, spongy disc that provides spinal support and acts as a shock absorber.

There are 25 discs in your spine, which make up 25–33% of the spine’s total length.

Each disc is composed of two layers:

  • Nucleus pulposus (NP): The NP is a gel-like substance that forms the inside of the disc. It’s made up of water, collagen, and proteoglycans. It helps keep your spine responsive, flexible, and able to absorb blows.
  • Annulus fibrosus (AF): This forms the outside layer of the disc. It’s shaped like a ring and is made of hard, fibrous tissue to help protect the NP.

As you age, these discs slowly break down. This is part of a process called degenerative disc disease.

Disc desiccation is when the inside of discs begin to lose their fluid. When a disc is desiccated (dehydrated), the NP becomes like a dried, brittle rubber band instead of a supple, responsive material.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options of disc desiccation.

Disc desiccation may gradually cause a disc to flatten as the fluid is excreted. This can increase the pressure on the disc and affect your spinal nerves.

Many people with degenerative disc disease don’t experience any symptoms. However, the first physical sign of disc desiccation is typically back stiffness. Other symptoms in your back may include:

  • pain
  • weakness
  • tingling sensation
  • lower back pain

If your nerves are affected, the pain may also travel down one or both legs. This may affect:

  • walking
  • reflexes
  • strength
  • sensations
  • bladder and bowel movements

Disc desiccation is usually caused by wear and tear on your spine, which happens naturally as you age.

That said, several other things could also cause disc desiccation, such as:

  • ankylosing spondylitis
  • spinal stenosis
  • malnutrition
  • repeated strain on your back, such as from hard labor
  • back injury, such as trauma from a car accident, fall, or sports injury

A healthcare professional will start with a medical history and physical examination.

They’ll first ask you about any back injuries you may have experienced in the past. Then, they’ll want to know more about any symptoms you may be experiencing, including:

  • what symptoms you’re experiencing
  • how long you’ve experienced them
  • where they’re affecting you

Next, they may touch your back, legs, and arms to test for pain. They’ll also ask you to do movements to test for any effects on your strength, range of motion, and balance. These may include:

  • walking normally, on your toes, and on your heels
  • lifting your arms and legs

The doctor may also do neurological tests to assess your sensations, circulation, and bowel and bladder functions.

Lastly, the doctor may order imaging tests to get a better look at your vertebrae and discs. These may include:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Dehydrated discs are usually thinner and less consistent in shape. These images will also show any additional problems that might be causing your back pain, such as a ruptured or herniated disc. Desiccated discs are also at a higher risk for herniation.

Treatment for disc desiccation will depend on the severity of your symptoms and how many discs are affected.

If your symptoms are mild, a doctor may advise you to:

  • maintain a moderate weight
  • practice good posture
  • avoid common back pain triggers, such as lifting heavy objects

If your symptoms are more severe, there are several treatment options that can help, including:

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you how to strengthen the core muscles that support your trunk and take pressure off your back. They can also help you improve your posture and come up with strategies to avoid movements or positions that may trigger symptoms.
  • Medication: Pain relievers, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), can help reduce pain.
  • Massage therapy: Relaxing the muscles near the affected vertebrae can help relieve painful pressure.
  • Spinal injections: A corticosteroid injection may help reduce inflammation and pain in your back.
  • Surgery: Spinal fusion surgery involves permanently joining two vertebrae. This can help to stabilize your spine and prevent movements that cause pain. Surgery may be necessary if your spinal cord or nerve roots are being compressed.

Disc desiccation is a normal part of aging and may be due to genetics.

That said, there are several things you can do to help slow down the process, including:

  • exercising regularly and incorporating core-strengthening exercises into your routine
  • regularly stretching
  • maintaining a moderate weight to avoid putting extra pressure on your spine
  • not smoking
  • staying hydrated
  • maintaining good spinal posture

How serious is disc desiccation?

Many people don’t experience symptoms of disc desiccation. However, in some cases, it may have physical and neurological impacts, such as:

  • decreased range of motion
  • weakness
  • pain in your back and legs
  • loss of sensation

Can you reverse disc desiccation?

Disc desiccation is a natural part of aging and it cannot be reversed on its own. However, some medications, therapies, and surgeries may provide pain relief and help improve your physical well-being.

What is a disc desiccation in MRI?

An MRI can measure how much fluid is in a disc. More fluid in the disc results in a higher signal, whereas less fluid has a weaker signal. In disc desiccation, the NP on an MRI may appear more white than a normal disc because the NP loses its central high T2 signal.

Can desiccated discs be rehydrated?

Discs cannot be rehydrated. However, some surgeries may allow for a desiccated disc to be replaced. These may include disc replacement surgery or adding another kind of spacer between your vertebrae.

Disc desiccation may be an unavoidable part of a long, healthy life, but there are several options for managing any symptoms you have.

If you’re having back pain, work with a doctor to come up with a pain management plan. This usually involves a combination of medication, physical therapy, and exercise.