Almost everyone’s spine will show signs of wear and tear as they age. However, not everyone will end up with degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease is not a disease per sè but rather a condition in which a disc is damaged and causing pain. Degenerative disc disease symptoms and severity vary widely among people with this condition.
Degenerative Disc Disease Causes
There are several possible degenerative disc disease causes. Its primary cause is wear and tear of the spinal discs. Over the years, the discs can lose their function and support and start to dry out, leading to pain and other symptoms. Factors that can make this condition more likely include:
- One of the most significant risk factors for degenerative disc disease is age. As you get older, the discs between the vertebrae begin to shrink and lose their cushioning. Symptoms of this disorder may start developing in your 30s or 40s; however, almost everyone has some level of disc degeneration by the time they reach 60. It’s important to note, however, that not all disc degeneration causes pain.
- Being overweight – even by 10 pounds – can make degenerative disc disease much more likely. Your spine is designed to keep your body’s weight supported, balanced, and evenly distributed. Extra weight puts extra stress on your spine, accelerating the degenerative process. The harder the various parts of your spine have to work, the faster they will wear out.
- Accidents and injuries. Sustaining a back injury may lead to degenerative disc disease. Car accidents, sports injuries, falls, and other accidents are one of the most common factors that can prompt pain and other symptoms. Although disc degeneration is a normal part of aging and does not always cause problems, it can make people more vulnerable to injury. It’s often after an injury that people experience degenerative disc disease symptoms for the first time.
Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms
Degenerative disc disease can cause a range of symptoms, including:
- Pain in the neck, lower back, buttocks, or thighs, depending on the location of the affects disc. The pain may radiate into the arms and hands.
- Pain that worsens when sitting. In a seated position, the discs in your lower back have significantly more stress on them than they do when you’re standing.
- Pain that worsens when lifting, bending or twisting. All of these actions can increase the load on your spine, exacerbating pain.
- Pain that improves while walking or running. You may notice that you have less pain when you’re walking (or even running) than when you’re sitting or standing still.
- A reduction in pain when you lie down or change position often.
- Severe pain that comes and goes. Periods of acute pain may last anywhere from a few days to a few months, and then get better. The pain may range from nagging to disabling.
- Tingling or numbness in the extremities.
- Muscle weakness in the legs, a sign of possible nerve damage.
Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosis
Diagnosing degenerative disc disease can be tricky because of how gradually it typically develops and the many possible related problems that can occur, such as herniated disc or spinal stenosis. For instance, it may be easy to diagnose a herniated disc, but much more challenging to determine that degenerative disc disease was the underlying cause.
In general, you can expect your doctor to perform a physical and neurological examination as well as a variety of tests, including a bone scan, discography, or myelogram. It would help if you also were prepared to answer a range of questions, such as when your pain started, what activities you did that may have led to the pain, what treatments you have already tried, and whether anything increases or reduces the pain.
Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment
Regardless of how your degenerative disc disease started or how severe it is, there’s one question you’re sure to be asking: What is the cure? Treatment typically begins with non-surgical methods designed to provide relief of your symptoms. Your doctor can help determine which approach will meet your needs best. Your options include:
- Non-surgical treatments. In many cases, non-surgical treatments are sufficient to reduce symptoms and help increase the patient’s comfort and quality of life. Treatment options include pain control measures (back braces, heat/ice therapy, anti-inflammatory injections, steroid injections, manual manipulation, or electrical stimulation), physical therapy (to strengthen and stretch the muscles and help the back heal), and lifestyle modifications (weight management, changes in posture, or smoking cessation).
- Surgical treatments. For some patients, non-surgical treatments will not be effective, and surgical methods may be indicated. Degenerative disc disease surgery may be the right choice for individuals with severe pain or loss of function that doesn’t respond to less invasive treatments. Surgery may involve disc replacement, discectomy, cervical spine discectomy, lumbar discectomy, or spinal fusion, depending on individual factors.
How to Get the Most from Your Visit to Dr. Kushwaha
To get the most out of your visit, there are some simple steps to follow. First, it’s advisable to take the time beforehand to write down any questions or concerns you may have, as it can be easy to forget points you wanted to raise once you’re in the office. It can be helpful to bring someone with you to help you ask questions and take notes. Be sure to write down the information you receive during your appointment, such as the name of a new diagnosis and any further instructions your doctor gives you.
If you have any questions about a new medication, such as why it was prescribed, how it will help, or what side effects it might cause, don’t hesitate to ask. Likewise, make sure that you know why a test or procedure recommended or what the results mean. If you will need to come back for a follow-up appointment, write down the time, date, and purpose of that visit. Finally, make sure that you know how to contact your provider should you have any questions.
Dr. Kushwaha provides degenerative disc disease surgery and other treatments. Contact Dr. Kushwaha today with any questions or to schedule a consultation.