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Degenerative Disc Disease

Overview of Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is a condition in which small and normal changes in the spine lead to painful sensations. This condition also arises when the vertebrae of the spinal cord suffer from deterioration or breakdown. This leads to the feeling of weakness, numbness, and pain that originate from the spine and travel along the legs. 

These vertebral discs are placed in the back as they act as shock absorbers. These discs allow flexibility which causes a person to move freely. But with the passage of time, the collagen on these discs deteriorates which causes friction. So when a person tries to engage these discs in movement, it is a painful experience.

Signs and Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Common degenerative disc disease symptoms are as follows:

  • Pain that radiates throughout the lower back and is worse when you are in a seated position
  • Pain that gets worse when you are bending 
  • Feeling comfortable walking, and running rather than sitting 
  • Irregular periods of pain might come and go after some time. 
  • The feeling of numbness or weakness in the lower limbs especially in the back
  • Weakness in the foot drop is a sign of possible nerve damage

Types of Degenerative Disc Disease

There are four known types of degenerative spine diseases. 

  1. Herniated Disc

The disc in the spine acts as a shock absorber. As time passes, the central part of the disc ruptures, which causes the disc to shrink. Thus the disc becomes unable to provide a cushioning effect. This causes an episode of severe back pain accompanied by sciatica or other back issues. The case of a herniated disc can be due to any injury or can simply be due to age. 

  1. Sciatica

The sciatica nerve is the largest body nerve that runs from the lower back to the thigh region and runs along the length of the legs. A person suffers sciatica when the nerve is subject to pressure or compression. This leads to weakness and numbness in the lower body parts. 

  1. Degenerative Disc Disease

These discs have fluid in between them. As a person ages, the fluid can dry up and this can lead to friction. This causes a significant drop in the cushioning ability of the discs. The dried-up fluid can lead to bone spurs which can add pressure on the nerves. Painful sensations and unbearable pressures are some of the major symptoms of degenerative disc disease. 

  1. Spinal Stenosis

Over time, the canals can narrow. This can lead to pressure on the nerves. The added pressure can cause weakness and loss of sensation in the lower portion of the body.

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

Spinal discs are made up of soft tissues that are present in the center and are lined with a tough exterior. The changes in the disc structure are what causes lumbar degenerative disc diseases. The common causes are given below:

  1. Crack 

Everyday stress and minor injuries can lead to tiny cracks in the small discs. This wear and tear cause a loss of elasticity and fluidity of the discs. This often leads to bulging out of the disc or slipping out from its original place. It also affects the nearby nerves. 

  1. The Fluid Dries Out 

When a baby is born, the disc in the spine is made up of water at the time of birth. But with the passage of time, you lose a major amount of fluid. This causes the canals to shrink. This also affects their ability to absorb shocks. The lost cushioning affects the bending and sitting of a person.

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Risk Factors of Degenerative Disc Disease

The risk factors of degenerative disc diseases are as follows:

  1. Age
  2. Significant back injury
  3. Overweight or obesity 
  4. Sedentary lifestyle
  5. Car accident 
  6. Extreme exercise regime 

Degenerative Disc Diseases Health Complications

Severe cases of DDD can lead a person to develop osteoarthritis. This is mainly because of the fact that the vertebrae rub together because of the lack of a fluid medium between them. Severe back pains, as well as stiffness, are some of the common complications that a person may suffer from

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Prevention

Given below are some effective tips to prevent DDD:

  1. Try to avoid living a sedentary lifestyle.
  2. Stay active as much as you can.
  3. Maintain a good body posture 
  4. Do not smoke 
  5. Make sure to maintain a healthy weight 
  6. Eat a balanced meal 
  7. Make healthy lifestyle choices
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Diagnosis

The doctor may ask you about your previous history. He may also suggest a whole-body examination. They might ask the following questions: 

  1. The start of the pain
  2. The part of the spine that hurts the most
  3. Whether it has spread to the other body parts or nor
  4. Any previous history or injuries
  5. Family history of degenerative disc diseases

The doctor may also recommend X-rays, MRI tests, CT scans etc. All these tests are done to check out the damage done to the nerves.

Treatment of Degenerative Disc Disease | When to Consult a Doctor

The treatment strategies for degenerative disc diseases are as follows:

  1. Heat and Cold Therapy 

The most used treatment method for these disc diseases is the application of hot or cold compresses. This can soothe the inflamed disc and can provide a source of comfort to the patient. 

  1. Over-The-Counter Medications

The use of medications is the most suitable method to treat the pain. The medicines are:

  1. Acetaminophen 
  2. Ibuprofen 

Both of these medicines are used to manage inflamed discs and painful sensations. 

  1. Surgery 

The option of surgery is recommended when the situation of the patient is critical. The doctor may suggest a full replacement or a spinal fusion.  Spinal fusion involves the connection of the affected vertebrae in an effort to strengthen the weakened discs.  

Artificial disc replacement is another method that is used to replace a damaged disc. 

  1. Physical Therapy 

The doctor may also recommend physical therapy to restore the lost sensation in the lower portion of the body. This also makes the person able to deal with the pain and is also essential for overall posture improvement.  

  1. Pain Relievers 

In case the O-T-C medicines are not working, the doctor may prescribe pain relievers. But these medicines can be highly addictive and thus they should be used with extreme care and guidance.  

Note: (Consult your doctor before taking any medications.) 

  1. Exercise 

This physical activity is also extremely helpful for the treatment of degenerative disc diseases. Exercise is also crucial to increase blood flow to the parts of the body. Stretching is the most common exercise that is suggested by doctors for this disease treatment. Yoga is also quite helpful to increase the flexibility of the spine.