What Causes Thinning of Disks?

Medically Reviewed on 10/28/2022
Causes of Thinning of Disks
Disk degeneration or thinning of disks does not always result in severe symptoms.

Spinal disks are like shock absorbers between the vertebrae. The disks help in the flexibility of the spine. With age, any injury to the disks may result in water loss between them, and the space between the vertebrae begins to collapse. Thinning of disks is not a disease; it is a natural process that comes with aging.

Causes of thinning of disks include:

  • Loss of water: At birth, approximately 80 percent of the disk is made up of water. With age, water in between the disks dries out, and the disks become thinner and flatter. Due to water loss, the cushioning effect and padding between the disks decrease, causing various other problems and pain.
  • Crack or tear: Daily activities and any minor injuries that are persistent for longer periods can cause tiny tears in the outer wall that has nerves. These tears near the nerves cause severe pain. In case the outer wall breaks, the softer portion of the disk pushes through the cracks. This results in a herniated disk—a condition in which the disk bulges or slips out of place. The herniated disk may affect the adjacent nerves and cause severe pain.

What are the symptoms of thinning of disks?

Disk degeneration or thinning of disks is not always accompanied by severe symptoms. The patient exhibits difficulty when the thinning disk bulges and moves out of proper alignment, impinging the adjacent nerve and causing severe pain. Some patients may exhibit symptoms if the disk fragments break and damage the nearby nerves.

The following are the symptoms of thinning of disks:

  • A localized pain in the back or neck region
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs
  • Sciatica pain
  • Radiating nerve pain
  • Pain worsens while sitting, bending, and lifting

Neck pain

Mild pain from a stiff neck is the most common symptom of thinning of the cervical disk. Sometimes, the pain becomes severe, lasting a few days or hours.

Nerve pain

Felt on only one side of the body. This pain tends to be a sharp or electric shock that radiates down the shoulder to the arm, hand, and fingers.

Numbness in the arms, legs, and feet

Symptoms, such as tingling, numbness, and weakness, can radiate to the shoulder, arm, hand, and finger. These symptoms may cause severe discomfort and difficulty in daily activities such as getting dressed, holding things, and walking.

Pain is the major symptom of thinning of the disk. If the pain is due to the degeneration of the disk, it goes away after a few days or hours. However, most of the time, the symptoms may be chronic and require treatment if the facet joints of the neck start thinning.

Some uncommon symptoms associated with thinning of disks include:

  • Difficulty moving the hands and legs
  • Numbness in the neck
  • Shock-like pain in the arms and legs that may worsen while bending


Nearly everyone has low back pain at some time during their life. See Answer

How is thinning of disks diagnosed?

The following process diagnoses the condition:

  • The doctor will ask for the patient’s medical history and their current symptoms.
  • They will then perform a physical examination by palpating the neck and neck's range of motion.
  • The doctor will ask the patient to perform a few movements, and they will check the variation of pain while performing those movements. 
  • If the pain is severe while moving or if there are any neurological symptoms such as tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms or shoulders, the doctor will recommend X-rays, CT scans, or an MRI to locate the area of degeneration or nerve damage.
  • Image testing such as X-rays and MRI or CT scans may help confirm the area of degeneration or other conditions such as osteoarthritis and stenosis.

What is the treatment of thinning of disks?

The treatment aims to reduce the pain and prevent further damage to the disks.

The following are the ways to relieve the symptoms:

  • Medications: Aspirin and ibuprofen can fight against inflammation and help relieve pain. Muscle relaxants and steroids can also help treat the pain.
  • Steroid shots: Help relieve symptoms such as pain, inflammation, and swelling. A doctor administers steroid shots in the epidural space in the back (a fluid-filled area around the spinal cord) or sometimes into nerve or muscle.
  • Physiotherapy: Some physical movements make the muscles of the neck and back stronger and more flexible. This supports the spine. These exercises should be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
  • Surgery: Suppose any of the aforementioned procedures do not work, the doctor may advise the patient for surgical procedures such as discectomy, in which the injured part of the disk is removed, which helps relieve the pressure on nerves. Some surgical procedures may include the complete removal of the damaged disk.
  • Home remedies: Provide relief from the symptoms for a short duration of time. However, these home remedies will not work on severely damaged disks or relieve long-term pain. Home remedies include:
Medically Reviewed on 10/28/2022
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