Patient's Complete Guide to Disc Degeneration

Overview of Disc Degeneration

Disc degeneration (ڈسک انحطاط۔) is the wearing and tearing process of one or more discs that are present between the vertebrae and spinal column. This causes pain. It is not a disease but rather a natural process that occurs during ageing.

Generally, these discs act like a rubber, which helps in stretching and bending the back. In degenerative disc disease, they deteriorate and loosen their strength.

Weakness, numbness, and pain that radiates down the leg are associated signs of disc degeneration

Signs and Symptoms of Disc Degeneration

Pain itself is a sign and symptom of disc degeneration. If it is not treated properly, pain becomes so intense that the individual can no longer handle it along with its daily activities. Disc degenerative pain initiates as the spine starts to damage and also affects other parts of the body.

The symptoms of disc generation range from mild to severe and vary with age. Some symptoms are defined according to the location of the affected area, which is given below:

  • If an individual is experiencing osteoarthritis, it causes pain and stiffness in the back.
  • If an individual’s lower back or lumbar spine is damaged, that generates distressing pain that may travel through the buttocks and upper thighs.
  • If an individual’s neck area or cervical spine is damaged, then pain may radiate to the arm, hand, and shoulder.
  • If an individual's spine is showing instability, it causes muscle spasms in the lower back or neck. It is a more painful occurrence.

The disc degenerative pain may get worse during sitting, bending, lifting, or twisting. Walking, lying down, and changing posture may help to relieve it.

Causes of Disc Degeneration

Spinal discs are made up of fibrocartilage tissue and have elasticity in them that’s why providing support between vertebrae and the spine. They act as a cushion when an individual carries a heavyweight or also helps to move the spine during bending position.

Spinal discs are damaged due to occasional injuries, including minor, unnoticed ones, etc.

Disc degeneration occurs due to:

  • Fluid Loss: The intervertebral discs of a healthy young adult contain almost 90 percent fluid. With the passage of age, the fluid content reduces, making the disc thinner. The distance between the vertebrae and spine becomes smaller, and it becomes less effective as a cushion or shock-absorber.
  • Disc Structure: It consists of two layers namely the outer layer and inner. In the outer layer of the disc, very small cracks are developed while the soft and gelatinous content in the inner layer may leak through the cracks, resulting in the rupturing of the disc. The disc may break into pieces.

Other factors include:

  • Age  (major factor)
  • Obesity
  • Vigorous physical work
  • Tobacco smoking
  • An acute or sudden injury, such as a fall

Risk Factors of Disc Degeneration

Age is the risk factor for disc degeneration disease. When you get older, the cushiony support loses, and vertebrae shrink down. Some other risk factors are:

  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy lifestyle
  • Car accidents
  • Undue stress on the discs and spine

Health Complications of Disc Degeneration

A severe condition related to disc degeneration can result in osteoarthritis in the back. Due to the loss of cushion between discs, the vertebrae rub together. This condition leads to pain and stiffness in the back. Lack of physical activity lead to the following conditions:

  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Blood clots in the legs
  • Depression
  • Reduced flexibility in your back
  • Severe pain

Prevention

Following prevention tips can help you avoiding disc degeneration:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Stay physically active
  • Dietary approach
  • Exercise regularly
  • Employ body mechanics

Diagnosis

The orthopedic surgeon will do a physical examination and assess the cause of the pain. They will ask about the duration or region of pain, whether there is tingling or numbness, falls, injuries or accidents, and conditions that cause extreme pain.

Despite this, an orthopedic surgeon may also examine:

  • Muscle Strength: The doctor may check for rupturing, wasting, or abnormal movements.
  • Pain during motion or in response to touch: Checking patient’s movement in particular ways to identify the location of pain whether the pressure applied to the lower back causes pain or not.
  • Nerve Function: The doctor will check the nerve root compression by tapping the hammer on different areas. Hot and cold stimuli may be used to detect the reaction of the nerve root.

Other diagnostic tests include checking the condition of spinal nerves, discs, and alignments such as a CT scan or MRI.

Treatment of Disc Degeneration | When to Consult a Doctor

Disc degeneration is one of the fatal diseases and its risk increases with age. Hence, the healthcare providers are using different treatments for multilevel degenerative disc disease, based on the intensity and location of the pain. They generally use conservative therapies (physical and medications), surgical, or home remedies.

Physical Therapies

Physical therapies are used for strengthening the back, neck, and core muscles in order to reduce pain. Two types of physical therapies are used to cure the pain i.e:

  • Passive Treatments

It is used for relaxing the body and for acute pain.

  • Active Treatments

It is done for body strengthening so that a person can have better spine support.

Passive Physical Therapy

Your doctor may also recommend one of the following therapies for the treatment of disc degeneration:

  • Deep Tissue Massage:  It helps to release the tension from the soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles) by applying direct pressure.
  • Hot and Cold Therapies:  Physiotherapies will make changes between hot and cold therapies. By using heat, it brings more blood to the targeted area because of more blood flow, more oxygen, and nutrients to the area. Blood is also needed to remove waste byproducts created by muscle spasms, and it also helps to heal.
  • Cold Therapy or Cryotherapy: Beneficial for stretching the muscles, slows blood circulation, reduces inflammation, muscle spasms, and pain. It is done by applying an ice pack placed on the targeted area or providing ice massage services. Another option is fluoromethane spray that cools the tissues
  • Spinal Traction: By stretching the back, spinal traction works to enhance pain caused by muscle tightness or compressed nerves. It can be done manually (by using his or her own body) or mechanically (with special machines).

Active Physical Therapy

Active therapy involves various exercises to improve the patient’s flexibility, strength, core stability, and range of motion (how easily joints move). This therapy helps to perform different exercises that limit the pain and helps in moving joints.

Physical therapies can be effective:

  • For the management of disc degeneration.
  • Beneficial for strengthening and stabilizing the affected area
  • Walking, cycling, swimming, yoga etc also helps in building the muscles of our back and stomach.

Surgical Treatment

If conventional therapies do not work within 3 months, then doctors will recommend surgery to the patients. Surgical treatment is opted when an individual feels:

  • Back or leg pain
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Difficulty in standing or walking

Some of the surgical methods for treating disc degeneration are:

  • Stabilization Surgery or Spinal Fusion: Spine stability occurs due to the fusion of two vertebrae together. It can be performed in any region of the spine but mostly in the lower back and neck area. Both are movable parts of the spinal joints. It helps to relieve severe pain for those patients who cannot carry heavyweight.
  • Decompression Surgery: It is used for the removal of joints of the disc that can relieve the pressure of the nerve. This surgery is best for those patients who are suffering from osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis problems.
  • Stem Cell Therapy: It is one of the latest treatment methods in which stem cells are extracted from the adult’s spine and injected into the patient’s localized pain area at the back. Stem cells can repair the damage. Extracted stem cell content is injected into the specific pain part to promote healing. The main goal is to make the cartilage functional by injecting the hydrogel system. It is more likely to be used for intervertebral disc regeneration and is considered to be an effective treatment.

Home Remedies For Disc Degeneration

By taking proactive roles patients can prevent disc degenerative disease such as:

  • Try heat and cold therapy.
  • Do physical therapy exercises at home.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

Speciality for Disc Degeneration

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