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Dehydrating Disc
August 2003

Q. I am a 43-year-old-woman who just found out that I have a little disc dehydration at the thoraco-lumbar junction with very slight wedging of D11, due to my old Scheuermann's disease. This was found when I had my MMR done due to back pain in my lower region. Until today I did not know I had the above disease during my school days. I've had no pain or shape change to my back. Can you explain what the above means?

A. The MRI report must be interpreted with caution. The discs are shock absorbers between the vertebrae, and their normal anatomy provides space between adjacent vertebrae so that nerves can exit from the spinal canal and reach their destinations. Disc problems can occur due to aging or trauma, in which a break or tear occurs in the tough outer layer of the disc (the annulus) and allows the softer inner material (nucleus pulposis) to protrude.

This protrusion causes physical pressure of the disc on the exiting nerve, and pain can be felt along the entire course of the nerve. This is more severe than what you describe. The dehydration occurs with aging, meaning the disc has lost some of its elasticity, but this may not be the cause of your back pain. About 30% of healthy people with no back pain will have some abnormality on an MRI of the back. The MRI must be correlated with the doctor's exam to clarify its significance.

Scheuermann's Kyphosis (Scheuermann's Disease) occurs during the growth of the spine in adolescence. The front part of the vertebrae do not grow as rapidly as the back part, resulting in a wedge-shaped vertebra rather than a rectangular shape. If severe, this causes a round back appearance. The cause is unknown.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=DS00171

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/brochure/thr_report.cfm?Thread_ID=10&topcategory=Spine

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