Nearly all parts of your body show signs of wear and tear as you age. Your spine is no different. However, even though the vertebra shows signs and symptoms of age in everybody, not everyone suffers from degenerative disc disease.
The spine consists of the vertebra and intervertebral discs. Degenerative disc disease attacks the discs in the spine. The term Degenerative Disc Disease is misleading because this is not a disease. Rather, it is a condition where age, strain and minor injuries add up to damage the intervertebral discs in the spine. Over the course of time, continuous strain leads to a degeneration of the discs.
What happens in the degenerative disc disease?
Your spine is made up of a number of vertebrae. There are discs in between the vertebra. The function of these discs is to cushion the vertebra, absorb shock and keep the spine flexible somewhat similar to the role of shock absorbers in a car.
When the intervertebral discs begin to get damaged, tiny scar tissues form over the torn or damaged ligaments. These are not as strong as the normal ligaments present in the discs. Further injury tears the scar tissue. Ultimately the pulp inside the disc loses water and it becomes stiff and the disc collapses. When this happens, bone spurs may start growing around the disc spaces. This is the bodys natural defense response as it tries to reduce the friction between the bones of the vertebra. However, these spurs can cause excruciating pain if they grow inwards and start to press against the nerves in the spinal cord. This condition is known as spinal stenosis.
The most common symptom of a degenerative disc is acute back pain. This pain is caused due to two factors: instability of movement and inflammation of the degenerated discs. So, any treatment of the degenerative disc has to target both the instability as well as the inflammation. Generally, doctors advise a combination of treatments since passive treatments have little effect on their own.
Passive treatments of degenerative discs include:
– Medication for the pain
– Chiropractic manipulation
– Epidural injections
– Ultrasound treatments (to warm the area to bring pain relief)
In addition to these, doctors also advise acupuncture, cold or hot compress and behavioral therapy. Active treatments of degenerative disc include weight loss, exercises and proper ergonomics (proper lifting techniques, proper furniture and proper posture).
If patients experience chronic pain in spite of these treatment methods, doctors recommend:
– Surgical intervention, or
– Artificial disc replacement
Surgery becomes unavoidable if patients suffer from back pain, leg pain, stiffness and numbness in the back and if there is difficulty in walking. There are a number of surgical treatments, and the doctor decides on the appropriate treatment methods based on the severity of the problem.