What’s wrong with your back?
Over the past few weeks, you notice that your back has become increasingly painful, especially if you’ve been sitting for a while. After you start experiencing numbness in your legs, you go to the doctor and find out you have degenerative disc disease. What does this mean for your future? Is it treatable? Can you prevent it?
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) isn’t technically a disease. It’s a progressive condition that causes the discs in your back to lose their strength over time. Spinal discs are located between the vertebrae of the spine and provide cushion. Naturally, discs dry out over time, causing them not to function correctly. Other times, the condition is the result of an injury or overuse. Unfortunately, once a disc is damaged, it can’t repair itself. Symptoms of DDD can start in a person’s 30s or 40s and then worsens.
Symptoms of DDD include pain that mainly affects the lower back but might extend to the legs and buttocks. If the pain starts in your upper spine, it can spread from your neck to your arms. Typically, the pain is worse after twisting/bending or sitting. Therefore, some individuals have less pain after walking and exercise. The pain can come and go in as little as a few days but can last up to several months. DDD can also cause weakened leg muscles, as well as numbness in your arms or legs.
Your risk of having DDD is increased the more you age due to the natural degeneration of discs. It’s important to note most adults over 60 have some level of disc degeneration, and not all of them experience pain. If you’ve had a significant back injury or do repetitive activities long-term, it can result in developing the condition. Being overweight and living a sedentary lifestyle are also associated with increased chances of having DDD.
A complication of advanced DDD is osteoarthritis (OA) in the back. With this type, the vertebrae rub together because there are no discs left to cushion them. This often results in severe pain, causing the person to be limited in the activities that they can participate in. Another complication is that many people who have back pain tend not to want to move, but this can actually elevate your chances of having worse pain, decreased muscle tone, reduced flexibility, blood clots, and depression.
The goal of degenerative disc disease treatment is to reduce inflammation and pain. The first step is to use heat and cold therapy. Cold therapy helps to reduce the pain, while heat aids in decreasing inflammation. Over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen, can alleviate pain. Others, such as ibuprofen, lessen inflammation. If these don’t work, talk to your doctor about prescription-strength medications. Your doctor will also recommend doing stretching exercises or yoga. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn routines that not only alleviate pain but strengthen the muscles in your back too.
If none of the previously mentioned interventions work, your doctor may suggest surgery. There are two main types. Artificial disc replacement means replacing the broken one with a new one made out of plastic and metal. The other option is spinal fusion, which connects the vertebrae together because this strengthens them.
While you can’t prevent the natural decline of spinal discs, you can reduce the likelihood of having significant pain by maintaining a healthy lifestyle from the time you’re young. This can reduce the chances of having severe pain. One of the most important things is getting regular exercise that not only promotes improved circulation and muscle strength but also encourages flexibility. By eating healthy, you’ll decrease the probability of being overweight.
No question, back pain can have a significant impact on your life. The good news is there’s a way to treat it. If you have any questions or concerns about degenerative disc disease, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit Spine Health’s Degenerative Disc Disease page at https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/degenerative-disc-disease/what-degenerative-disc-disease