The term degenerative disc disease refers to the gradual wear and tear of the discs that cushion the bones (vertebrae) of our spine. As we age, these intervertebral discs can dry out and flatten. This can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Approximately 90% of adults over 60 years of age have some sign of degenerative disc disease. Some may feel pain related to the condition, while others may not.
Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease
Many factors can increase your risk of degenerative disc disease, but age is the primary culprit. At birth, the discs are about 80% water and, as a person ages, the discs gradually dry out.
Wear and tear over time also contribute to the demise of the discs.
As can participation in sports – especially full-contact sports – which can tear the outer layer of the discs, causing leaking of its gel-like interior.
Last but not least, being overweight can place additional downward force on the spine, helping to flatten the discs.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
There are a few common symptoms that affect people with degenerative disc disease such as pain when sitting for long periods of time. That’s because, while you are seated, the lower discs in your upper back have three times the pressure put on them as opposed to when you are standing. Often, the pain lessens with movement such as walking.
When a person is bending, twisting or lifting an object, weakened discs cause an increase in pain. It can also cause numbness and tingling in the extremities and weakness in nearby muscles.
Pain can range from mild irritation to severe, disabling pain that can affect the lower back and buttocks and thighs. Or, pain can occur in the neck and radiate out into the arms and hands, depending on which disc in the spine is affected. The episodes of pain can last a few days to a few months.
Treating Degenerative Disc Disease
The first step to treating the condition is getting your back pain under control.
Physical therapy is often recommended to target and strengthen back muscles. Certain exercises can increase the strength of the muscles in the back so those muscles can more effectively support the spine and reduce pressure placed on the discs. In addition, frequently altering your position between sitting, standing, and lying down can bring relief from pain.
Exercising also increases blood flow, which in turn nourishes the joints and muscles with oxygen and nutrients carried by the bloodstream while carrying away harmful inflammatory waste products.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are also often recommended to treat the pain associated with degenerative disc disease.
If these efforts fail, your orthopedist may recommend surgery such as an artificial disc replacement or fusion of two or more vertebrae.
The spine is a marvel of engineering but can, and often does, wear out. If you’re experiencing back pain or neck pain you believe may be associated with degenerative disc disease, contact the orthopedic specialists at Advanced Bone & Joint in Missouri. Call (636) 224-4192 or request an appointment now to see how they can help you.