Black disc is a term used to describe the appearance of deteriorated spinal discs on medical imaging studies. Damage to the disks causes them to look darkened, making them very easy to identify when a radiologist examines the scans. Disc deterioration is extremely common. Most older adults have some damage in their spinal discs and onset of deterioration can occur earlier in people with certain risk factors. It is not possible to cure degenerated spinal discs, but treatments can be provided to manage them.
In people with degenerative disk disease, the ability of the spinal discs to absorb water is reduced. Over time, the discs dessicate or dry out. This makes it difficult for them to absorb shock and they provide less protection to the spine. The discs will grow tough and fibrous over time, eventually stabilizing in a degenerated state. People with degenerated discs can experience back pain as a result of the damage, although they will not have radicular pain, pain caused by damage to the nerves originating from the spine.
On a medical imaging study, the degenerated disk will appear flattened and dark. Discs in the early stages of dessication may be grayish, while a fully black disc is completely dessicated. Many people do not experience symptoms in the early phases, except for the occasional twinges of back pain. Someone with this condition can also have more severe back pain caused by the wear and tear on the spine.
If a radiologist identifies black disc, patients do have some treatment options. Patients in pain may consider spinal surgery to fuse and stabilize the spine, reducing the pressures on the dessicated disc. Medications can be used to control pain, and sometimes gentle physical therapy can strengthen the spine and reduce some of the painful symptoms. Exercise like swimming that does not jar the spine may be recommended to allow people to stay fit without injuring themselves.
Smokers are at increased risk of developing black disc, as are athletes because they push their bodies through repeated hard physical exercise. Some environmental exposures have also been linked with the degeneration of spinal discs. People who work in factories and physically demanding industries may develop dessicated discs and associated back pain along with other problems at an earlier age than would otherwise be expected. It is possible to develop additional spinal problems beyond black disc and these problems may cause other symptoms, like numbness, tingling, and pain in the extremities.