Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition that refers to the degeneration and breakdown of the intervertebral discs, which are the cushions between the spinal bones (vertebrae). It is common among adults exceeding 40 years and can cause severe pain, numbness, and weakness in the back or legs. However, there is hope, as treatment can relieve pain and increase mobility. Below are the essential things to know about DDD.
Who is at risk of developing degenerative disc disease
DDD is most common among adults over 40 years, but it can occur at any age. Aside from age, other factors that increase the risk of developing this condition include:
- Acute injuries obtained from hard falls
- Obesity or general overweight
- Biological sex since it occurs more frequently among women
- Working a gruesome and physically demanding job
How common is degenerative disc disease?
Although most people do not develop symptoms, almost everyone experiences some vertebral disc degeneration after 40. However, statistics show that only about 5% of adults experience pain.
Causes And Symptoms
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease
Neck and back pains are the most frequent symptoms of disc degeneration. Someone with DDC may also experience a type of pain that:
- Causes tingling or numbness in the legs and arms
- Immerges and disappears, sometimes lasting weeks or even months
- Radiates down the lower back and buttocks
- Worsens when bending, sitting, or lifting
What causes degenerative disc disease?
Over time, the discs deteriorate and wear down as a natural part of the ageing process. However, only some experience pain and reduced mobility. Those that do experience these symptoms do so because of two reasons. These are;
- Dry out: Vertebral discs have a softer core containing water. When this water content decreases due to natural ageing, the discs become thinner, less flexible, and have reduced shock absorption capabilities.
- Herniation (tears and cracks): A tear in the outer surface of the disc allows some of the inner jelly to leak out. Such tears can put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain. On the other hand, if the outer walls of a vertebral disc cracks open, the disk might bulge out. This herniated disc may press against a spinal nerve causing tremendous pain.
Treatment And Management
Treatment of degenerative disc disease
The goal of treatment is to relieve pain and improve function. Treatment may be nonsurgical or surgical. Often healthcare providers will recommend Nonsurgical options first. These include;
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance. These exercises may also help relieve pain.
- Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve pain. Your doctor may also prescribe stronger pain medications or muscle relaxants.
- Epidural steroid injections: Such injections deliver steroid medication to the area around your spinal discs, joints, or nerves to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Radiofrequency neurotomy: This procedure uses electric current to heat up and burn sensory nerves, preventing pain signals around that area from reaching the brain.
Is surgery necessary for degenerative disc disease?
Often you do not need surgery to treat or manage degenerative disc disease. However, if weakness and pain persist, surgery may be an option. Doctors may propose spinal decompression surgery.
How to manage your degenerative disc disease at home?
Aside from treatment options, there are several things you can do at home to help relieve pain and improve your quality of life. These include;
- Regular exercise: Low-impact exercises such as swimming or walking can reduce pain and strengthen your back muscles.
- Stretching: Gentle stretching of your back and neck muscles can help relieve pain and maintain good posture.
- Hot and cold therapy: Alternate heating pads and ice packs three or four times a day for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce inflammation and soreness.
These are some of the important things to know about degenerative disc disease, from causes, symptoms, and treatment options to how you can manage it at home.
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