What are some of the signs and symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
As long as humans have walked the earth, there have always been those who refused to accept the inevitability of aging. Every culture has its tales of those who searched for some “fountain of youth” or way to stop or reverse the aging process. So far, these quests have proven elusive. We all age, and, consequently, we all go through similar physical changes. This is particularly true when it comes to the wear and tear we inflict upon our joints and the discs in our spinal column.
If we live long enough, typically for more than 60 years, we will have measurable degeneration in our spinal discs. This generally occurs in the cervical area of the spine, the neck, and the lumbar portion of the spine, the lower back, due to the fact that these are the discs that have most often been involved in the basic movements that we constantly ask the body to make. Six decades or more of movements, most totally unconscious, take a toll that results in the wearing away of these little shock absorbers that have prevented the vertebrae from rubbing together.
While disc degeneration is a natural occurrence that happens when the discs begin to lose their water content as a part of the aging process, it can also happen earlier in life. Activities that involve a lot of extreme or repetitive movements, particularly those that are job or sports-related, can result in tears in the outer layer of the disc.
Disc Degeneration or Degenerative Disc Disease?
Everyone will eventually experience the degeneration of their spinal discs but not everyone will be diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. The reason for this is that degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease. The diagnosis is based on the condition that results in pain from the breakdown of the discs. Those with pain are considered to have degenerative disc disease; those without pain are not.
Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms
- Pain that may range from mildly persistent to extreme and even disabling
- Pain may be in the lower back, buttocks and thighs or start in the neck and extend down the arms and hands
- Pain that is often worsened by sitting
- Pain that intensifies when trying to lift, bend or twist
- Pain that may actually ease while walking or moving around
- Pain that can be alleviated by changing positions or by lying down
- Pain that may be ongoing or that comes and goes for periods of time, sometimes days and other times longer
- Numbness or tingling may be experienced in the arms, hands, legs and feet
- In extreme cases, there may be nerve damage resulting in leg weakness or the condition referred to as foot drop
Unfortunately, because the amount of blood that is supplied to the spinal discs is minimal, once they are damaged, they cannot repair themselves. The goal will always be to prevent any further damage, if possible, and relieve or reduce pain. Treatment options will likely include some combination of:
- Rest, although not for an extended period
- Heat and/or cold therapy
- Medications to control pain and inflammation
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
- Surgical discectomy
At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidence-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing back pain or have questions about any other condition or service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here.