In a healthy spine, discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae, so the bones of the spine never actually touch. That padding not only allows the flexibility you take for granted, but it also opens space for nerves to leave your spinal column and spread to the rest of your body. Your spine is a marvel of engineering.
Degenerative Disc Disease Beginnings
Spinal discs have a tough outer shell and a jelly-like interior, which gives them their cushion properties. Degenerative disc disease develops from a back injury or from normal wear and tear. The disc shell tears or ruptures, and when it heals:
- The shell isn’t as strong as it once was, which leads to further injury.
- The inflamed area causes extrusions that can pinch the nerves in the area.
If you leave degenerative disc disease untreated, you can develop chronic pain from the pinched nerves. Furthermore, the weakened disc is in danger of fully collapsing over time. Bone spurs from this condition can cause spinal stenosis.
Once your spinal physician has determined that you are suffering from degenerative disc disease, the first step is to ease your pain and other symptoms. The doctors at the Southeastern Spine Institute employ a conservative approach, which means that they try non-invasive treatments before considering surgery.
Other treatment options for degenerative disc disease include:
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory medicine
- Chiropractic care
- Osteopathic manipulation
- Spinal injections
Physical therapists at the Southeastern Spine Institute can control, if not cure, degenerative disc disease. A run of physical therapy appointments can give you daily stretches and exercises to do that will minimize your pain. Also, you may learn when to apply cold or heat for best results. If your case is severe enough, you may need a brace or even traction.
Another therapeutic treatment option is chiropractic care. While it doesn’t show results for everyone who suffers from degenerative disc disease, regular sessions can relieve pain and increase your mobility. Chiropractors increase blood flow to the affected area, which aids healing and helps your nervous system function better.
Like chiropractic treatment, osteopathic manipulation therapy (OMT) has proven results in treating degenerative disc disease. OMT is an additional therapy to try if the others have not had any positive outcome. OMT can consist of:
- Soft tissue pressure
- Energetic muscle movement
- Direct “thrust” pressure
- Counterstrain movement
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known collectively as NSAIDs, relax your muscles to prevent twitching and ease your pain. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. While they work for short-term relief, you shouldn’t take them continually for long periods of time, as they can cause serious side effects.
Steroids also can be effective for relieving pain and reducing swelling. The spine specialists at the Southeastern Spine Institute don’t prescribe steroids lightly, but if you do need them for degenerative disc disease, you can take them orally or via a spinal injection, which puts the medicine directly where it’s needed.
Most people can find relief without resorting to surgery, but your spine physician might suggest this option if you haven’t seen any improvement after six weeks of the other treatments. You doctor might recommend surgery if you:
- Have trouble standing up or walking
- Feel weakness, tingling or numbness in your back or legs
- Lost control of your bladder and bowels
Depending on your case, you can have spinal fusion surgery, which joins two of your vertebral bones. This surgery bypasses the bad disc. Another procedure is replacing the damaged disc with an artificial disc. Artificial disc replacement is still in the clinical trial phase, but the surgeons at the Southeastern Spine Institute are among the 30 spine surgeons in the country who perform the procedure.