Degenerative disc disease(also called spondylosis) is a condition caused by the breakdown of the discs that separate the spine bones. As you age, the spine begins to show signs of wear and tear as the discs dry out and shrink. Pressure on the spinal cord and nerves may cause pain.
The disc itself does not have a blood supply, so if it sustains an injury it cannot repair itself the way other tissues in the body can. An otherwise insignificant injury to the disc can start a degenerative cascade whereby the disc wears out.
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is fairly common, and it is estimated that at least 30% of people aged 30-50 years old will have some degree of disc space degeneration, although not all will have pain or ever receive a formal diagnosis.
Interestingly, many people who suffered from DDD pain since 30s feel much relieved by the time they are 60, it's because discs may have dried out to the point that they cause less pain.
Symptoms can vary, but the general characteristics usually include:
- Pain that is centered on the lower back, although it can radiate to the hips and legs, continuous and lasts more than 6 weeks
- Pain that is frequently worse when sitting, when the discs experience a heavier load than when patients are standing, walking or even laying down. Prolonged standing may also aggravate the pain, as can bending forward and lifting an object
- Pain that is exacerbated by certain movements, particularly bending, twisting or lifting
- Severe symptoms can include numbness and tingling in the legs, as well as difficulty walking
Among all the symptoms, weakness in the leg muscles is what we pay special attention to, it may indicate some nerve root damage.
While disc degeneration can't be reversed, there is evidence that exercise, lifestyle changes and careful management of your back pain can contribute to better quality of life.
Self care. Using correct posture and keeping your spine in alignment are the most important things you can do for your back. You may need to make adjustments to your daily standing, sitting, and sleeping habits.
Stress is the number one obstacle to pain control. Pain increases when you are tense and stressed. Relaxation exercises are one way of reclaiming control of your body. Deep breathing, visualization, and other relaxation techniques can help you to better manage the pain you live with.
Physical therapy. The goal of physical therapy is to help you return to full activity as soon as possible. Exercise is very helpful for a painful degenerative disc, and it can help you heal faster.
Chiropractic. Chiropractic manipulation, or spinal adjustment, is a primary treatment that chiropractors use for patients with back or neck pain. The chiropractor applies pressure to the area that is immobile or not moving properly. Some people have very good results after being treated by a chiropractor.
Medications. Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), and steroids. Sometimes muscle relaxers are prescribed for muscle spasms.
Surgical treatments. Surgery is rarely recommended unless you have a proven disc herniation or instability and your symptoms have not significantly improved with nonsurgical therapy.