What you need to know about degenerative disc disease

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What you need to know about degenerative disc disease

When we are young and healthy, a condition such as degenerative disc disease (DDD) is hardly given a thought.  In fact, most young and physically healthy people probably could not tell you what the condition even means.  But for those who are experiencing the painful condition of DDD, will tell you how debilitating and disabling it has the potential of becoming.

Degenerative disc disease is actually not a disease but instead refers to a condition in which pain is caused from a disc that loses integrity. Our discs are like shock absorbers lying between the bones of the spine.  At birth, 80% of the discs are composed of water.  With age, the discs dry out and shrink losing their ability to absorb shock and force.  Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have shown that nearly everyone by age 60 will have some signs of wear and tear on the spinal discs.  But not everyone who has DDD will have pain.  Causes of degeneration of the discs can be related to usual daily activities, playing sports, injuries that can cause swelling, soreness, and instability or having more nerve endings deeper into the outer area of the disc which contribute to pain.

Symptoms of DDD

Most symptoms associated with DDD are commonly found in the lower back or neck. Common symptoms include the following:

·      Pain that can range from nagging to severe and disabling

·      Pain that becomes worse when sitting compared to standing

·      Pain affecting the low back, buttocks and thighs

·      Pain that worsens with bending, lifting or twisting

·      Pain that lessens when walking or moving

·      Pain that lessen with changing positions often or lying down

·      Periods of severe pain that come and go, lasting from a few days to a few months

·      Numbness and tingling in the extremities or weak leg muscles or foot drop

Diagnosing DDD

A doctor will conduct a physical exam along with taking a medical history asking about what symptoms a person is experiencing.  A MRI is usually done which can show the amount of damage to the discs but cannot by itself confirm a diagnosis of DDD.

Treatment of DDD

The goal of treating DDD is to get the pain under control.  In order to do this, exercise is necessary to help increase the strength and flexibility of muscles surrounding and supporting the spine.  The reason why exercise helps is that it increases blood flow to the back, nourishing joints and muscles with oxygen and nutrients and can clear away destructive inflammatory waste products.

Other treatment options besides physical activity might include:

·      Physical therapy

·      Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium), or pain relievers such as acetaminophen.

·      Surgery of possible artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion

·      Heat and cold therapy

·      Spinal mobilization

Other factors to consider in providing self-care for DDD is to always follow the doctor’s orders, do regular exercise to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, eat a nutritious diet, don’t smoke, and reduce stress.  By making smart decisions and choices on leading a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in making living with DDD more bearable.