Degenerative disc disease is not a disease, but a condition that describes the process of the disc collapsing over time. It is an age-related wear-and-tear of a disc that causes pain, instability, and other symptoms in your body. The degenerative disc disease occurs when one or more of the discs between the vertebrae that allow your back to flex and bend deteriorate or break down.
Disc degeneration is common in the neck, and your lower back as these areas of the spine undergo the most motion and stress. It is mostly caused by disc dehydration and a slipped or herniated disc, and it is a natural occurrence that comes with aging.
What are the Indicators of Degenerative Disc Disease?
The symptoms of degenerative disc disease differ from one person to another.
Your exact symptom depends on the disc that is affected. The common symptoms include:
- A low-grade, continuous pain around the degenerating disc that increases over time due to activity or stress.
- You feel increased pain doing a specific activity that affects your spine.
- Your neck or spine is unable to give the proper and necessary support which makes movement difficult.
- Instability of your spine caused by muscle tension or muscle spasm.
Further Signs of and Diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease
- Temporarily incapacitating muscle spasm.
- Sharp, stabbing radiating pain in your back.
- In cervical disc degeneration, pain is felt in your shoulder, arm, or hand.
- In lumbar disc degeneration, pain is felt in your hips, buttocks, or down the back of your leg.
- Increased or decreased pain in certain positions.
To properly diagnose DDD, Dr. Ali may perform a combination for both physical and neurological exams. During a physical examination, Dr. Ali will examine such things as your range of motion, posture, physical condition, and other factors and will note any movements or activities which cause you pain. An examination of your spine will also be conducted to note its curvature and alignment.
Dr. Ali may also perform a neurological examination, where he may test various factors such as your reflexes, muscle strength, nerve changes, and the path in which your pain travels throughout other parts of your body. This part of the consultation can be a key factor in the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease as it can show how your nerves or even your spinal cord are affected by DDD.
The various imaging tests may vary from an x-ray, to help Dr. Ali see the bones, spinal channels, any fractures or bone spurs in the patient, to a CT scan or MRI, which are more effective at showing soft tissues and any conditions such as herniated and bulging discs. Imaging tests may also be conducted to look for any nerve damage that may be present.
How can Degenerative Disc Disease be Treated?
Our goal at The Pain, Spine and Sports Institute is to reduce pain and prevent pain flare-ups. The non-surgical treatments include:
- Exercise and physical therapy: They help prevent or reduce further recurrences of pain. The exercises you must do are stretching, aerobics and strengthening exercises.
- Lifestyle modification such as avoiding alcohol, smoking, drinking plenty of water, incorporating movements will also help you manage the pain.
- Pain management: You must focus on improving mobility and reducing pain by administering treatments such as:
- Applying ice or a cold pack
- Using a heating pad, a warm bath
- Pain medication
- Using TENS units
- Spine adjustment by a chiropractor or spine specialist
- Steroid injection
Only when the non-surgical treatments fail to give any relief, surgery will be recommended.
If you are experiencing back pain that is keeping you from leading a healthy and active life, or if you suspect that you may be suffering from degenerative disc disease, please reach out to us today and let us get you the help you need.