The spine is one of the most worked bones of the human body, as it performs various functions ranging from supporting the body weight, to allowing flexibility for motion, to protecting the spinal cord. The backbone is made up of spinal discs that are soft and compressible structures, made of 80 percent water and jelly like material. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine and aid physical activities. Supporting the anatomical and mechanical functions of the body, the spine is susceptible to wear and tear that can gradually take the shape of a disorder known as Degenerative Disc Disease. The physician who participate in the Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral line treat patients with various spinal disorders including degenerative disc disease.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative Disc Disease is a medical condition in which the spinal discs start losing water, which deteriorates their shock-absorbing capability. As a result, the cushioning and blood supply to the spine reduces, causing a debilitating back pain. Studies suggest that an estimated 56 million Americans suffer from a chronic back pain due to DDD and need back pain treatment.
Aging remains a primary factor behind the degenerating spine; however, a few more attributes can lead to the disorder such as:
Drying Out of Disks
Spinal discs may dehydrate, making the discs thin and narrowing the gap between the vertebrae. As a result, the discs become inflexible and tend to absorb lesser shocks than before during strenuous activities.
Tears or Cracks in Annulus
Tears or cracks in the Annulus, which is the outer capsule of the disc, may also result in loss of jelly-like material, leading to rupturing or breakdown of the spinal disc.
As the padding between successive vertebrae reduces, the body tries to make the spine stable through bony outgrowths known as bone spurs. These spurs impose pressure on the nerve roots, resulting in a chronic back pain.
A sudden blow to the spine can also lead to the breakdown of spinal disc resulting in a chronic back pain.
The symptoms of DD vary from person to person. Some patients report a total absence of pain, whereas a few complain about an intense, debilitating pain that starts affecting the daily activities. The pain is often progressive in nature, starting from the lower back and radiating to the arms and even buttock. Moreover, physical activities that tend to impose pressure on the degenerating discs can intensify the pain. Talking about the postures, sitting can accentuate the pain due to load on the spine discs. The pain tends to reduce on lying down or taking a walk for some time rather than standing still.
Must Read: Degenerative Disc Disease 101: An All-in-One Guide
Diagnosing a degenerative disc starts with a physical exam with special attention on the back and lower extremities. The doctor examines flexibility, the range of motion and signs that may reflect the effects on nerve roots due to degenerative changes in the back. Moreover, to check for nerve compression in the spine, the doctor may suggest some imaging test such as MRI, CT Scans, blood tests, bone scans, or in some cases, electromyography or discography.
The treatment of Degenerative Disc Disorder depends on the stage of the disease and the level of aggravation of back pain and discomfort. Treatment can often take a granular approach, starting with methods such as:
Non-surgical methods remain the cornerstone of back pain treatment involving a number of exercises and therapies to help the spine discs retain the flexibility. The approach may further consist of:
Maintaining the right posture while standing, walking and even sleeping can realign the spine discs that may help relieve consistent pain. Improving postures may also consider an ergonomic seating at the workplace or improve the form while lifting heavy objects.
Back pain may aggravate under stressful situations; therefore, an individual can practice deep breathing, meditation and other relaxation techniques to alleviate stress, thereby reducing the pain and discomfort in the back.
Physical therapy aims at restoring the flexibility along with imparting strength to the spine and may involve exercise, using muscle relaxants and applying a combination of heat and ice.
Chiropractic manipulation aims at restoring the motion of the immobile areas of the spine by applying a physical pressure. The practice helps in reducing scar tissue formation and alleviate pain and stiffness in the back.
A doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants along with one or a combination of the following:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen and Celecoxib to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Analgesics such as Tylenol to relieve pain.
- Epidural Steroid and facet injections for immediate pain relief
A doctor may recommend surgery as the last resort if first line of treatments fail to show significant improvements or the pain aggravates. The most common surgical procedures to treat a degenerative disc are:
One or more vertebrae are joined to impart stability and a normal motion to the spine.
Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy
The method uses a thin catheter to deliver heat to the outer capsule of the spinal disc to relieve discogenic back pain.
The Way Forward
Many instances of back pain are related to a poor posture and age-related degeneration of the spinal discs. Moreover, working for extended hours in one position may also contribute to the problem. Gradual changes in posture and lifestyle can make a significant impact and help in strengthening and restoring the function of the spinal disc. If you or someone you know has been facing chronic back pain, call the Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral line, we are here to help. The physicians participating in the referral line specialize in man back pain treatment options. To schedule an appointment, give us a call at 1-888-608-4762 or click here.
Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic.