FAQs on Intervertebral Disc Degeneration
DDD or Degenerative Disc Disease or Disc Degeneration refers to changes in the human spinal discs with progressing age, and is one of the most common known causes of back pain. The spinal discs are shock absorbers that separate one Vertebra from another, lending flexibility to the spine.
The pain in the discs is an indication of wear and tear in these compressible soft discs. Contrary to what the name suggests, degenerative disc disease is not a threatening or progressive disease with a potential to leave a person crippled for life, but an innate part of the aging process.
What causes discs to degenerate?
Also known as spondylosis, it is a condition where the compressible spinal discs lose the ability toprovide cushion and flexibility to the spine. Though it can affect any area of the spinal cord, the disease mostly affects the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) regions of the spine. With age, the spinal discs tend to lose out on their water content, which makes for 80% of their structure. Consequently, they become smaller and drier. This reduces the cushioning properties of the discs and exerts pressure on the annulus, causing pain and even restricted movement in some extreme cases. It can also be triggered by other medical conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis.
The frequency or severity of pain in degenerative disc disorder varies from patient to patient. Some may experience a little discomfort in the spine or occasional bouts of pain. For others, the pain may be so chronic that it restricts movement and interferes with everyday chores. In some cases of lumbar spondylosis, pain may travel to the sciatica (buttocks) and legs. Some patients may even complain of numbness in the limbs.
Who is at Risk?
Though degenerative disc disease is often associated with aging, it is not unusual in people in their late twenties or thirties. In such cases, the occurrence of this disease is often attributed to lifestyle. Smokers, people with desk jobs (since sitting is known to exert more pressure on the spinal discs than walking or running) and those who carry out strenuous physical activity (heavy weight lifting for instance), are at a greater risk of this condition.
Diagnosis of this disease involves studying yourmedical history, along with a physical examination. The doctor may even order imaging scans such as MRI, myelogram, CT scan, and a discogram to get a clearer picture of patient’s condition.
Most doctors do not operate on a patient with degenerative disc disease unless all non-surgical treatments have been exhausted. The non-surgical treatments include physical therapy, stress management, spinal adjustment, and medication such as steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics. The most common surgical procedure is a spinal fusion surgery where two vertebrae are permanently joined for better stability.
In mild cases, application of ice or heat (whichever provides more relief) on the affected area and getting lots of the rest may be sufficient. Medication can provide relief and stronger medication can be prescribed as needed.
In severe cases, where the damage has led to pressure on a nerve, osteoarthritis, or spinal stenosis, surgery may be recommended. Surgery would involve the removal of the damaged disc, and the fusing of the affected vertebrae to protect the stability of the spinal cord.
If you or a loved one lives in the Greater San Diego area and are chronic low back pain patients, a degenerative disc may be the culprit. Let the California Pain Network help you. The Network connects those in pain with pain management San Diego trusts. Just fill the contact form or call (619) 500-1573 to book an appointment NOW!