The term degenerative disc disease is actually a misnomer. It does not represent a true disease as you cannot catch it from a virus and it does not typically get worse like a lot of diseases do. Nevertheless, the term has stuck and represents a medical condition causing low back pain and pain is sometimes radiates into the legs but I am throughout the back.
Here are some frequently asked questions which include treatment options.
What exactly is degenerative disc disease?
Humans have an intervertebral disc between every vertebrae of the spine. It acts as a shock absorber and allows an incredible range of motion of the spine in multiple directions. The disc consists of 80% water in normal anatomy along with 20% being a combination of proteins and collagen.
When a person is in their 20s to 40s, it is common for the disc along with many other parts of the body to start dehydrating and losing water.
This can result in disc degeneration, and potentially pain.
The disc has two parts to it and the best analogy is that of a jelly doughnut. The outer part is called the annulus fibrosis and the inner part is the nucleus pulposis. The inner part has no sensation, meaning that the person cannot experience any pain from a problem in the nucleus.
Pain can however, come from the outer part which is called the annulus. There are nerve endings in this region and if there is a tear in the disc those nerve endings can’t be irritated.
Over 35% of individuals have evidence of disc degeneration on either MRI or x-ray and don’t even know it. No back pain whatsoever. This age range is between 20 and 40 and was shown in the study back in 1990.
For an unfortunate few, degenerative disc disease leads to substantial back pain that flares up every few weeks to months. Usually it is not constant and comes and goes, but when it is present can be disabling.
Does degenerative disc disease get worse over time?
This is actually a mess and typically not true. Over time, degenerate this disease can typically be managed without surgery just fine and allow a person to maintain a normal lifestyle with nonsurgical treatment. Eventually, the disc and surrounding tissues will stiffen up considerably and pain often that will decrease.
Should I avoid certain activities or sporting activities?
The answer to this question is to let symptoms be your guide. Degenerative disc disease is a quality of life condition and if the person is able to do those activities desired, then they should go ahead and do them. If however, a person is a runner for instance and has resulting low back pain that is significant after jogging, then possibly they should switch to swimming or something less impactful for exercise. but the general rule with degenerative disc disease is that if it does not hurt, then it is okay to do it.
What are effective treatment options for degenerative disc disease?
There are numerous treatments for degenerative disc disease that can help a person avoid surgery and achieve a satisfactory baseline. The first is physical therapy. This can help strengthen up a person’s core muscles and achieve better range of motion. Treatments including electrical stimulation, ice and heat, TENS
units, and ultrasound can help as well. This can be especially useful during acute flareups to alleviate spasms and other symptoms.
Chiropractic and acupuncture can also be helpful. These are termed alternative therapy and may help considerably with maintaining baseline pain and helping decrease exacerbations.
Spinal decompression therapy is a non-surgical treatment that involves 4 to 7 weeks of regular visits. These treatments are noninvasive and very low risk and can help alleviate back pain from degenerative disc disease for quite a few months.
Treatment with a pain management doctor can consist of medication management or interventional pain treatments. Initial medications should consist of over-the-counter Tylenol or acetaminophen. These may be enough for mild to moderate pain. For those times with acute exacerbations, short-term narcotic medication may be necessary or muscle relaxers as well.
Pain management treatments that may be useful include trigger point injections, intradiscal injections, facet blocks, or epidural steroid injections. All of these will depend on an individual’s particular presentation on physical exam and imaging. A pain management doctor will tailor the treatments to what he or she sees.
The darker disc means the water content is lower and is degenerating.
What are my chances of needing surgery?
The vast majority of those with low back pain due to degenerative disc disease are able to avoid an operation. In certain instances if considerable conservative treatment for over six months does not help, then surgery can be considered. Results can be anywhere from 50 to 80% good to excellent in certain studies, but patient selection is very important.
If you live in Florida and are suffering from chronic low back pain, let the Florida Pain Network help you.
The Network connects those in pain with pain relievers throughout the state. This includes Palm Beach County pain clinics, Orlando pain clinics, Port St. Lucie pain management clinics, Central Florida pain clinics, and there’s also a pain clinic north of Tampa.There are many more Florida pain clinics as well.
Visit this page for options and simply put in your ZIP Code to see those closest to you or you may call 877-877-8556 for assistance.