Damaged intervertebral discs can cause degenerative disc disease, resulting in back pain as well as radiating pain into the neck, arms, hips, and legs. This condition cannot technically be cured, but it can be stopped in its tracks with proper interventions.
Specific treatments focused on spinal rehabilitation can bring relief to those living with degenerative disc disease (DDD).
What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Despite its name, DDD is not a disease you catch. It’s a condition that develops because of either a misalignment of the spine or trauma to it. The damage can happen at any point in the spine: cervical, thoracic, or lumbar. The discs, which rest between each vertebra, can lose their flexibility and their ability to be a shock absorber and cushion between the bones of the spine.
Discs are comprised of a gel-like center called the nucleus and an outer, sturdier layer called the annulus. Through damage caused by trauma, misalignment, or age, the nucleus begins to lose some of its fluid. This loss puts more stress on the annulus. Small tears in the annulus can develop. The nucleus’s fluid can seep out and touch nearby nerves. As the fluid escapes the nucleus, the discs become thinner and stiffer, and the vertebrae get closer together.
The damage to the disc causes a ripple effect. Once the discs no longer keep the vertebrae apart, those bones rub on each other and can cause bone spurs to grow. The abnormal rubbing of the vertebrae can lead to pinched nerves. The spinal canal that houses the spinal cord can also narrow at the point of injury.
Those who have scoliosis, have experienced a back injury, or are older are more likely to develop degenerative disc disease.
What Are the Signs of Degenerative Disc Disease?
The pain of DDD can suddenly appear after an injury or could slowly progress over the course of time. Some pain is so severe that it inhibits daily activities.
The pain of DDD can manifest in several different ways:
- Pain in one or both of your legs and buttocks (sciatica)
- Numbness or tingling in your leg and foot
- Dull or throbbing pain accented with episodes of intense pain
- Sitting, bending, and twisting make the pain worse
- Lying down lessens the pain
- Walking feel better than standing
If you are having pain or symptoms of nerve damage, you should see a health professional right away.
How Is Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosed?
If you feel pain, your first stop is your primary physician. They will ask you many questions about your symptoms and consider your previous medical history. They will probably conduct a physical exam to assess muscle weakness or numbness.
Imaging studies like X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, or myelograms can help determine if DDD or another condition like a herniated disc is causing the pain. Depending on the results of the scans and tests, you could be referred to a neurologist, orthopedist, or neurosurgeon for treatment options.
What Treatments Help Degenerative Disc Disease?
DDD cannot be reversed but lifestyle changes and exercise can help improve your quality of life. A physical therapist from ProFysio Physical Therapy can provide exercises and movement modifications so that you are able to better manage any pain.
Fortunately, you do not need a prescription or referral to access physical therapy expertise and services to help control the progression of the condition.
There are several nonsurgical treatments can that help relieve the pain of DDD:
- Learning correct posture and body mechanics
- Adjusting how you sleep
- Incorporating relaxation exercises to manage stress
- Learning proper weightlifting and cardio techniques
- Strengthening and stretching the lower back and other areas
- Getting proper rest and applying ice in acute stages
- Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
- Incorporating holistic therapies like acupuncture, acupressure, and biofeedback
- Adding gentle movement like tai chi
Our philosophy at ProFysio Physical Therapy is to use conservative approaches first.
The pain of DDD will not disappear on its own. Contact us to schedule a free consultation. Call (732) 812-5200 to schedule an appointment at one of our four locations: Aberdeen, East Brunswick, Edison, or Old Bridge.