Have you been told that you have degenerative disc disease? Let’s talk about what this means and put your mind at ease.
Before we talk about what degenerative disc disease is, we want to explain what it isn’t. It’s not REALLY a disease at all. You see, degenerative disc disease is simply a part of aging, and it’s something we all go through as we get older.
It happens quite often that an MRI report says “degenerative disc disease” and the word “disease” causes alarm. It’s the accepted medical name for the condition, but it’s just not quite the BEST word. It’s nothing to fear because it really is the natural process of aging. As Dr. Baig always says, think about it like your discs getting gray hair.
Just like some people get gray hair very early in life and others may not get much at all, degenerative disc disease can be more advanced in some patients than in others. That is to say, some folks will have more degeneration than others, and some might experience more pain than others.
Sometimes a patient may require some type of spine surgery to relieve their pain or symptoms, and sometimes they may need no degenerative disc disease treatment at all.
What is degenerative disc disease?
As we age, the discs in our spine dehydrate. This is a normal aging function, and no amount of drinking water will prevent it. Once they have dehydrated, spinal discs don’t absorb shock as well as they did. Some activities, injuries, or even normal wear and tear, can also cause tears in the outer layer of the disk and make that shock-absorbing disc less effective.
When that process causes pain or other symptoms, it’s considered degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative disc disease symptoms
As we explain about degenerative disc disease, although everyone experiences some amount of disc degeneration as they age, not everyone will have symptoms. A person is said to have degenerative disc disease if they experience some of the following symptoms:
- Neck or back pain that worsens when sitting, bending, lifting, or twisting
- Pain that improves when walking or running
- Pain that improves when lying down or changing positions often
- Periods of neck or neck pain that come and go. Can range from nagging to disabling.
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Weakness in the leg or foot drop (difficulty lifting the front part of the foot)
Some people may experience all of these symptoms, and others may not experience them at all. Some people have problems in just one area of their back, and others experience multilevel degenerative disc disease.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, then it’s a good time to visit your doctor.
Treatment for degenerative disc disease
There are many treatment options for degenerative disc disease. Much of the time non-surgical treatment plans are very successful in treating the condition. A few of the non-surgical options your doctor might recommend include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Steroid injections
- Physical therapy
- Back braces
- Modified daily activities
- Electrical stimulation
- Heat and ice therapy
In each case, the treatment is designed to relieve the pain you might be experiencing.
If these options fail to provide relief, then your doctor may recommend surgery, Generally, there are two surgical options that your doctor may pursue.
- Disc Replacement: Your doctor may recommend a disc replacement surgery that removes the damaged disc and replaces it with an artificial one.
- Spinal Fusion: Your doctor may recommend a spinal fusion surgery that removes the damaged disc and fuses the vertebrae together to create strength and stability.
These surgeries can often be performed in minimally invasive ways that promote quicker recovery.
Things to avoid with degenerative disc disease
Remember that degenerative disc disease is a natural part of aging. There are a few things you can do to help your overall spinal health as you age.
- Avoid excess sugar: It’s important to eat well and take care of your body. Dr. Baig recommends that his patients reduce sugar, and eat healthy diets rich in proteins and leafy greens.
- Avoid smoking: Beyond the impact on your general health, quitting smoking can have a big impact on your spinal health.
- Avoid poor posture: Standing and sitting with proper posture will help reduce the overall wear and tear on your spine.
The biggest thing NOT to avoid if you have the common symptoms of degenerative disc disease is your doctor!