Degenerative disc disease is a condition marked by ongoing deterioration of the discs that cushion the spine. These discs are located between the vertebrae, and are made of cartilage and a gelatinous-like core. Over time, cartilage breaks down and the discs become susceptible to injury. When pressure is placed on the discs through usual activity, illness, or injury, they can bulge or break open. While this condition sounds alarming, it affects most adults over the age of 50. The two most common areas that individuals experience degenerative disc disease include the lower back and the neck. There are many ways that patients can determine whether or not they are developing degenerative disc disease. Here are myths and facts about the top three symptoms and treatments of degenerative disc disease.
Not having pain at all with degenerative disc disease is more common than patients might think. Based on the location of the affected disc, there could be little to no pain, or other symptoms like numbness and tingling can be present.
People at risk for degenerative disc disease include those who do heavy physical work, smoke cigarettes, have sustained back injuries, or are considered obese.
Patients generally feel pain that corresponds with where the disc has degenerated. If pain is in the neck or arm, the degenerated disc is most likely in the neck or shoulder. If the affected disc is in the lower back, pain may occur in the leg, buttock, or lower back.
Because this condition is so common, physicians can easily diagnose it through comprehensive medical history and physical exam. Physicians take inventory of pain locations, recent illnesses, accidents, and injuries, and weakness, numbness, and tingling. Physicians might also require x-rays or MRIs to complete the diagnosis.
While there's no way to cure this condition, there are several treatment options available. Many of the treatment options center around managing the discomfort and pain associated with this condition, through medications, physical therapy, alternative medicine, and surgery.
Along with rest and medications, patients are strongly encouraged to stay active. Regular exercise can help relieve stiffness and strengthen the core, neck, and back muscles.
If the condition is very bad or doesn't improve with other treatment, physicians may recommend surgery. Surgery generally involves removing the damaged dic and fusing bone together to protect the spinal cord.
Pain relievers used to treat degenerative disc disease include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Specific prescription medications will be recommended by physicians if they are needed for pain management.