A degenerative disc is a natural occurrence that comes because of aging and usually affects the neck and lower back. Spinal discs separate the vertebrae, which are interlocking bones that make up the spine. They act as shock absorbers that allow the spine to bend, flex and twist. Although degenerative disc can occur throughout the spine, they mostly affect the cervical region (neck) and the lumbar region (lower back).
The spine begins to manifest signs of wear and tear as you age because the discs start to shrink and dry out. This article gives an in-depth review of degenerative disc including its causes, symptoms, treatment, and home remedies.
What Does Degenerative Disc Entail?
The spine is made up of a column of bones known as vertebrae that are bound together by a shock-absorbing disc. This disc helps prevent friction between the bones during movement. As you age, the discs lose their height and flexibility to cushion the spine leading to a condition known as degenerative disc. A degenerative disc can occur in the lower back, neck or thoracic region. Some of the changes include shrinking and drying out of the discs, small tears in the annulus, excess motion, and growth of bone spurs.
The additional stress to the vertebrae causes the facet joints and ligaments to enlarge and spread over a larger area. This process narrows the spinal canal, which in turn compresses the nerves and spinal cord causing pain. The shock-absorbing discs lose water and flexibility gradually as you get older which exerts a lot of pressure on the disc annulus.
Causes and Symptoms of Degenerative Discs
Degenerative discs are primarily associated with aging but can also be caused by injury, osteoporosis, or arthritis. Osteoporosis is a health condition that causes damage to the bones by making them weaker, fragile and bristle. Other factors that might contribute to degenerative discs may be genetic, inflammatory, autoimmune, environmental, or traumatic. Degenerative disc symptoms often vary from one person to another. The most common symptoms include pain in the lower back, numbness or tingling in your leg, and activities such as bending and twisting may worsen the pain.
The diagnosis of a degenerative disc is often based on your medical history and physical examination. Your doctor may also inquire about the circumstances of where and when the pain started including a description of symptoms and prior injuries or conditions. A physical exam is done to test for muscle numbness or weakness and to determine the source of pain in your spine. Your doctor may order a CT scan, MRI scan, myelogram, or discogram to determine the conditions that compress your nerve roots.
Although it is nearly impossible to reverse disc degeneration, careful management of your back pain, lifestyle changes, and exercise can contribute to a better quality of life. Non-surgical treatment may include medication, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and pain management.
Steroid injections involving an injection of a numbing agent into the spine and a corticosteroid may also be conducted. This procedure is usually done under X-ray guidance and the medication is delivered directly into the painful area to reduce inflammation of the nerves. Your doctor may recommend surgery as a last option if conservative therapies cannot help control the pain. The primary goal of surgery is to decompress the spinal nerves, restore the disc space height and stop the painful movement caused by the motion segment.
Home Remedies for Degenerative Discs
Individuals with degenerative discs may benefit from a combination of medications and home remedies such as relaxation exercises, hydrotherapy, rest, and self-care. Pain in the lower back usually gets worse when you are tense and stressed. Relaxation techniques such as visualization and deep breathing help you manage both stress and pain. It is also important to learn correct posture and ways to keep your spine in alignment. This means that you have to adjust your sitting and standing posture as well as your sleeping habits. Your workspace also needs to be rearranged to relieve pressure from your spine.
When to see a Doctor
It is important to seek medical help if your neck or lower back pain lasts more than a couple of weeks. Other symptoms that necessitate immediate medical care include general numbness or weakness that extends to your shoulders and arms.
Besides following the doctor’s instructions, you can manage your condition in various ways such as strengthening the muscles that support your spine and getting the right amount of physical activity. You also need to make lifestyle changes such as eating a nutritious diet and addressing the emotional and physical effects of living with a musculoskeletal condition.