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Degenerative Disc Disease

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What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is when normal changes take place in the discs of your spine, due to aging and movement, which cause you pain. The discs are the material that sits between the individual bones making up the vertebrae in the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers and cushions for the bones. The discs are similar to a jelly donut, with a soft center surrounded by a tough, protective exterior. When herniated, some of the “jelly” will protrude through a tear in the exterior, resulting in extreme chronic pain or discomfort.

Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

Pain is the primary symptom of degenerative disc disease. The common signs of this disease include pain that:

  • Is centered in the lower back, buttocks or upper thighs
  • Does it come and go and changes between severe and just bothersome
  • Is worse while sitting and better while moving around
  • Does it improve when changing positions or lying down
  • Is worse while bending, lifting or twisting

Degenerative Disc Disease Causes

The causes for degenerative disc disease include:

Drying out. Discs are primarily made of water, so as they lose water and thin out due to age, they become more susceptible to injury because they cannot absorb the shocks as well. Having less cushion between the vertebrae can cause pain.

Cracking. Everyday movement can place stress on the discs and cause them to crack. Any tear near the nerves can be especially painful. After cracking, the disc may bulge, or slip out of place, which is called a slipped or herniated disc. It can affect nearby nerves.

Degenerative Disc Disease Prevention

Although degenerative disc disease cannot be prevented entirely, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent the condition from leaving you feeling completely debilitated. These include:

  • Exercising. Doing low-impact aerobics regularly can help you strengthen muscles and allow them to function better.
  • Lifting objects properly. Do not use your back to lift heavy objects, make sure to lift from the legs.
  • Stretching. Improving your flexibility in your back and abdominal muscles can strengthen your core, which ultimately keeps everything aligned and helps you avoid straining muscles unnecessarily.
  • Keeping your weight down.Keeping weight in a healthy range can help you avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your muscles, bones and joints.
  • Eat a healthy diet. This can promote strength in bones, muscles and other body tissues.

Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosis

To diagnose degenerative disc disease, your Adena Health Spine specialist will discuss your medical history and symptoms with you. Questions to expect include:

  • When did the pain start?
  • Which part of your spine hurts?
  • Has the pain spread to other parts of the body?
  • Have you suffered spinal injuries in the past?
  • Does anyone in your family have similar problems?

After that, looking at your lower back and asking you to walk or perform other movements is typically enough for making a diagnosis. Imaging tests like x-rays or CT scans can confirm the diagnosis and help determine the exact cause.

Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment Options

For most people, the symptoms of degenerative disc disease can be managed with medications, physical therapy, or a combination. Treatment options include:

  • Oral steroids to decrease inflammation and provide pain relief
  • Oral medications for severe pain
  • A combination of physical therapy and exercise to alleviate pressure on the nerve root
  • Epidural injections to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Manual traction to assist in opening up the cervical foramen where the nerve root exits the spinal canal

In certain cases, degenerative disc disease surgery may be recommended. This procedure is called a discectomy, and it involves removing the injured part of the disc entirely.

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