Degenerative disc disease
Despite its name, lumbar degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease. But that doesn’t make the pain it causes any less real. Whether it’s the result of aging or injury, lumbar degenerative disc disease can limit your activity. Some people even need surgery. If you’re one of them, Medtronic offers a treatment option.
As discs lose their water content because of disease or age, they lose their height, bringing the vertebrae closer together. As a result, the nerve openings in your spine become more narrow. When this happens, the discs don’t absorb the shocks as well, particularly when you are walking, running, or jumping.
Wear and tear, poor posture, and incorrect body movements can also weaken the disc, causing disc degeneration.
For some of us, degenerative disc disease is part of the natural process of growing older. As we age, our intervertebral discs can lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock-absorbing characteristics. For others, degenerative disc disease can stem from an injury to the back.
Several factors can cause discs to degenerate, including age. Specific factors include:
- The drying out of the disc. As we age, the disc dries out and doesn’t absorb shocks as well
- Daily activities and sports can cause tears in the outer core of the disc
- Injuries can cause swelling, soreness and instability
Unlike other tissues of the body, there is very little blood supply to the disc, so once a disc is injured, it cannot repair itself, and the discs can start to deteriorate.
Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms
Symptoms are most commonly concentrated in the low back or neck, depending on where the degenerated disc(s) are. Common symptoms include:
- Pain that ranges from nagging to severe and disabling
- Pain that affects the low back, buttocks and thighs
- Pain in the neck that may radiate to the arms and hands
- Pain that is worse when sitting
- Pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting
- Pain that lessens when walking and moving
- Pain that lessens with changing positions often or lying down
- Periods of severe pain that come and go, lasting from a few days to a few months
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop may be a sign that there is damage to the nerve root
The aging process and wear and tear on your spine can damage a disc in your back. A damaged disc can also be caused by repetitive activities or an injury to the spine.
Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment
All doctors agree that getting back pain under control – no matter the source – requires exercise to increase the strength and flexibility of muscles that surround and support the spine. Exercising increases blood flow to the back, which nourishes joints and muscles with oxygen and nutrients, while clearing away destructive inflammatory waste products.
Treatment options to go along with physical activity and exercises to increase back strength include:
- Physical therapy
- Medications: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relievers
- Surgery: artificial disc replacement, spinal fusion
- Heat and cold therapy
- Spinal mobilization