Continuous turning and twisting can take a toll on the neck and back. Blame it on increasingly hectic lifestyles or deteriorating diet, the fact remains the same that approximately two out of three individuals experience neck or back pain at some point in their lives. One of the causes of neck and lower back pain is a degenerated disc. Degenerative disc disease is quite common in the elderly, and its effects vary in nature and severity. The participating physician members of the Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral center provide minimally invasive treatment options for a multitude of spinal conditions including degenerative disc disease. The following is a summary of the disorder, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
The backbone consists of a series of bones known as vertebrae. These bones form the column that provides structural support to the entire body. Vertebrae are separated by 23 cushioning discs that act as shock absorbers.
Over time the discs can dehydrate which can make them less supportive and more prone to injury. The height of the discs decrease as they dehydrate and produce chemicals that cause discomfort in the surrounding tissue leading to neck or back pain. The condition may also cause pain in the arms or legs. Though degenerative disc disease is common among the older population, it may, at times, occur in younger adults also. In such cases, the discs may flatten or bulge out from the sides. Though disc degeneration is considered normal, it can be excruciatingly painful.
The symptoms of degenerative disc disease depends on its type. Broadly classifying, there are two types of DDDs with the following symptoms.
Many patients with cervical DDD complain numbness, tingling, or weakness in the neck, arms and shoulders, as in this condition, the nerves in the cervical area become irritated or pinched. Patients also suffer from low-grade pain of stiff or inflexible neck. A pinched nerve root in the C6-C7 segment, for instance, results in weakness in the triceps, forearms, wrist drop, and also results in altered sensation in the fingertips or middle fingers.
Patients with lumbar DDD experience continuous low-grade, but tolerable, pain that occasionally increases for a few days or more. Though the symptoms of Lumbar DDD may vary, the general characteristics include:
- Lower back pain that can extend to the hips and legs
- Lower back pain that may last for 6 weeks or more
- Increase in pain, especially while bending, twisting, lifting or sitting for long hours
- Severe symptoms include tingling in the legs, numbness, and difficulty in walking
To diagnose degenerative disc disease, doctors take into account several factors, including the medical history of the patient, the severity of problem, and the factors that improve or worsen the condition. Neurological exams help in testing the muscle strength, reflexes and the sensation in arms and hands; whereas imaging tests, such as MRI, X-rays and CT scan enable doctors to visualize the spinal and determine the source of the pain or stiffness and the severity of the problem. Based on the findings, the doctor prescribes a suitable course of treatment.
The treatment for degenerative disc disease is a combination of three steps: pain control, exercise and physical therapy and lifestyle changes. Regular exercise helps in healing the damaged disc, and also prevents or reduces the recurrence of the pain. People with symptomatic degenerative disc disease need to exercise under the guidance of a physical therapist or a trained healthcare professional. In addition, it is necessary to develop a healthy lifestyle. The patients must avoid nicotine, alcohol abuse, and staying in one position for too long. On the positive side, drinking plenty of water and gentle hamstring stretching may relieve the pain.
Degenerative disc disease, if diagnosed at an early stage, can be treated without a surgery. In such cases, the doctors prescribe over-the-counter drugs and physiotherapy to treat the problem. If the pain persists for more than a few months even after resorting to primary treatments, doctors may recommend surgical options. If you or someone you know has been experiencing pain or stiffness in the neck or back, waste no time in seeking a consultation from a physician. The participating physician members in the Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral program specialize in the treatment of degenerative disc disease and other spinal and orthopedic disorders. To book an appointment, click here.
Resources: Spine-Health.com, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons