When the discs between the vertebrae break down, leading to pain, you have degenerative disc disease. It is an age-related condition that causes weakness, numbness, and pain that radiates down the leg. It can also lead to neck pain and back pain, especially lower back pain. The condition is chronic, and the symptoms are quite uncomfortable. In this article, we’ll address this disease’s causes and treatments so you can either avoid or recover from the condition.
What are the Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease comes with a host of symptoms that help a doctor diagnose the disorder effectively. These include, but are not limited to:
- Stiff and painful back
- Muscle spasms in back or neck
- Radiating pain and weakness
- Numb and tingling feet
- Shoulder, arm, or hand pain
These symptoms can vary based on where in your spine the disc has deteriorated. If it is in the neck, you’ll likely experience or notice the pain in the shoulder, arm or hand. If it is in the lower back, you may find your buttocks or legs in pain. Accordingly, doctors will know where to look based on your symptoms and can give tips for pain relief.
What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
Some experts say that this disease occurs naturally with age and should be classified as a disorder. It can also be found in younger people who’ve perhaps stressed their spine in sports, exercise, or bad posture. In either case, it has leading causes that contribute to its onset and its presence is a strong precursor to pain in the back and neck, as well as the legs.
Discs in your vertebrae act as shock absorbers. When they deteriorate, they provide less protection in our daily movements leading to a jarring feeling that produces chronic neck pain and lower back pain. Unfortunately, the pain experienced with degenerative disc disease will get worse with age since you use your spine every day for even the simplest of activities.
In reality, the cause is either a loss of fluid in between your vertebrae, or a change in disc structure such as fractures or cracks. Loss of fluid means there is less distance between vertebrae and more likelihood of friction or jarring during movement. Small cracks, or even tears, develop in the outer layer of the disc resulting in a leak of material that breaks down the structure. This too leads to deterioration that causes an unstable feeling.
How Do You Treat Degenerative Disc Disease?
The disease, as you know, leads to chronic pain in various parts of the body. One way to alleviate pain is to change positions frequently, especially when pain is experienced. Lying flat on your back in bed may alleviate back pain, or using a special pillow may help reduce neck pain. Certain foods may help in some cases. Exercises can help with the pain as well, and we’ll discuss this in another post. However, this is a temporary fix that only serves to reduce rather than eliminate the problem.
There is also the option of a minimally invasive XLIF surgery or lower back fusion surgery. It is the standard that if a patient does not respond to exercises or physical therapy within 3 months, then surgery is a sound option for degenerative disc disease. Some signs that you need surgery include:
- Back pain that limits normal activity
- Weak or numb legs
- Problems standing or walking
There are two types of surgery for degenerative disc disease: stabilization and decompression. The former fuses vertebrae to create better stability. The latter involves removing a part of the joint to relieve nerve pressure. Both are permanent remedies that may or may not help manage lower back pain but can provide relief for an indefinite period.