What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is all part of the natural ageing process. Sometimes, the normal wear and tear changes that occur in your spinal discs can cause you pain.
Think of your discs as shock absorbers. They are located in between the vertebrae (segment-like bones in your spine). It’s because of these that your back retains its flexibility.
When you are young, the spinal discs consist mainly of water. As you grow older, these discs will lose water and get thinner. When this happens, your discs are not able to absorb shocks that efficiently anymore.
Loss of water means that your vertebrae are not as well cushioned as they were before. If you are above 60 years of age and have back pain it could be that you have DDD, as this is the age group most affected by this condition. However, it must be noted that DDD is a different condition from a herniated disc or bulging disc, and they shall not be confused for one another.
Some Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Common symptoms of disc degeneration are the following:
- Neck pain, back pain, as well as pain in other parts of the body such as the hips, upper thighs, lower back or buttocks.
- Pain that is intermittent. This pain can range from mildly irritating to severe and debilitating.
- The pain might range from lasting only a few days to lasting a few months.
- Most often the pain will be worse when you sit down, and better when you are mobile.
- It will probably feel worse if you twist, lift or bend your core.
- It will probably get better when you move your position or when you lie down.
- You may get a feeling of numbness or experience a tingling sensation.
- If your leg muscles start to weaken, it could be that damaged discs are putting pressure on the nerves in your lower spine.
Sometimes, disc and spinal problems are genetic, so your doctor will ask if there is a history of these problems in your family. Your mother and father may not have had such problems, but another relative from further back in your family may have had them.
How to treat DDD?
The first step is to have a doctor conduct a physical exam (physical examination) and take the patient’s medical history. In order to confirm if the source of your symptoms can be attributed to degenerative disk disease, the doctor may suggest that you undergo further imaging tests such as a computer tomography CT scan or a magnetic resonance imaging MRI scan.
Obtaining a diagnosis is also important to rule out other possible causes that produce symptoms similar to DDD, such as pinched nerves, damage to the soft tissues in either part of the spine (lumbar spine, thoracic spine, or cervical spine), or even more severe issues such as spinal cord compression, narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) and even tumours.
Although many doctors often prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections or other pain relievers which ease pain, swelling, and inflammation, prolonged use of either is not recommended.
One of the best things that you can do is to exercise. Gentle bending and stretching, as well as walking may be of help in re-mobilising your spine.
Apart from physical therapy, exercising and walking, you could try spinal decompression therapy with the Backrack spinal decompression device, to restore the space between your vertebrae that was lost due to water loss from your spinal discs.