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Degenerative disc disease

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Degenerative disc disease is an age related problem of the intervertebral discs of the spinal column, especially of the lower back (lumbar) and neck (cervical). The discs are soft, they render flexibility to the spine and act as shock absorbents.

What are the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

The symptoms vary from one person to another. Pain in back and neck is common symptom.

  • If the cervical disc has been affected then the pain might spread to the arm while lumbar disc problems can trigger pain in legs and buttocks as well.
  • Thoracic disc pain will be experienced in the mid back region. The pain is progressive in nature and it mostly hurts while sitting or bending and lifting.
  • Weakness in muscles, numbness and tingling sensation in the extremities

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

  • People who smoke tobacco excessively and do heavy physical work are more prone to suffer from degenerative disc disease in the old age. Accidents, back and neck injury also accelerate degeneration.
  • Loss of fluid in the disc- It occurs due to aging. The discs becomes thin, lose efficiency to absorb shock and the distance between the vertebrae is increased. The spine loses its stability due to this.
  • Ruptured disc- In this condition the outer layer of the disc is torn and the jelly like material present inside the nucleus (inner portion of the disc) exudes out through the cracks. As a consequence the disc either ruptures or bulges out.

Diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease

  • See your doctor on experiencing pain in back or neck. Your doctor will check your medical history, evaluate the symptoms of pain, check the movements that cause the pain and test your nerve and muscle function by touch.
  • Depending upon the severity of the symptoms you will need to undergo X ray, CT scan, MRI or discogram for a detailed report on the condition of the disc.

Treatment for degenerative disc disease

  • The primary treatment for early cases of DDD is non-surgical wherein doctors usually prescribe NSAIDs (pain killers) to manage the pain. Exercises for improving the flexibility and strength of disc are also combined.
  • You may need to wear orthopaedic belts, neck bands or braces to support your neck and spine.
  • Epidural Steroid injections (ESI) may be administered in the joints surrounding the affected disc as a pain relief measure.
  • Surgery is definitely the last option if the conservative treatment methods fail to bring about improvement and the patient suffers from severe pain, numbness and weakness in legs and the back.
  • Different types of surgery include spinal fusion (stabilization of the spine), decompression surgery (in the posterior or anterior region of the spine), Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy (IDET- use of heat to heal ruptured disc) and stem cell therapy

Self Care to prevent or cope with degenerative disc disease

  • Physical therapy and exercise is the best natural way to improve the condition of your spine.
  • Right from young age if you take care of your sitting, standing and sleeping posture, then you are lot less likely to suffer from this disease. Check with a physiotherapist about the correct spine alignment technique.
  • Do not get addicted to tobacco products, especially smoking. Have the nutritional supplements suggested by your doctor regularly.
  • If the pain is just at first stage, then you can go for traction sessions at a clinic and simultaneously take “warm and cold” compress in the painful region.
  • Do not bend your back or neck while working. You must remember this precaution
  • Eat foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, magnesium and potassium. You can have supplements also.

We suggest you to not neglect pain in back or neck at any cost. Although the pain subsides, there are potential chances for it to recur. So change your lifestyle as suggested by your doctor for long term relief.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 17, 2015