Degenerative Disc Disease: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Degenerative disc disease or DDD is a condition wherein pain and numbness are felt from a degenerated disc in the spine. The degeneration of the disc occurs normally as we age. Spinal discs are soft, compressible interlocking bones. These discs make up the spine. They absorb shock for the spine by bending, twisting or flexing. As the tissues within the discs wear down, you feel pain, numbness or tenderness. DDD usually occurs in the lower back and the neck region.

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

The changes in the spinal discs could be a result of tissue breakdown. This is called osteoarthritis. Sandwiched in between the discs are cartilage. Cartilage protects and cushions the joints. When the cartilage thins out, the discs start breaking down.

DDD could be caused by a herniated disc too. Herniated disc is the breaking or bulging of the spinal disc. This happens when tiny tears or cracks develop in the outer side layer of the disc.

In some cases, DDD is triggered by a narrowed spinal canal.This condition is called spinal stenosis. It occurs when the narrowing of the spinal canal opens a space that holds the spinal cord. This results in pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves, leading to pain and damaged nerves.

Treating Degenerative Disc Disease

Pain Management

Pain from DDD is usually caused by inflammation or instability. If the condition is mild, the pain can be treated with painkillers. You will need a series of medication to address the cause of pain. Usually, you will be prescribed with Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers. These medications will eliminate the pain temporarily. For severe cases of DDD, you will need stronger medications, drugs that relax the muscles. Such medications include an epidural steroid injection. Because pain medications could have adverse side effects, do not self-medicate. Always work with your doctor to determine the right meds for your needs.

You can also apply hot or cold compress on the affected area. This treatment helps release tension, loosen stiff muscles and ease joint pain.

Exercise and Rehabilitation

Exercise and rehabilitation also minimize pain and heal the muscles. But for those who are afflicted with severe DDD, exercises should be performed under the guidance of a physical therapist or a trained health care professional.

Exercising helps release endorphins or happy hormones. This class of hormone uplifts the mood and act as a natural painkiller!

Lifestyle Changes

Of course, you have to make major changes in your lifestyle to manage pain from DDD. You want to focus on avoiding stress at all cost. You also don’t want to worsen your condition by exerting yourself too much.

Start by investing in an ergonomic chair. Work on your posture too. Avoid alcoholic beverages and stop smoking. Each day, try to work out for 20 to 30 minutes. Try not to sit too long or stand up for an extended period. Give yourself 10 minute breaks to stretch or flex your muscles. Finally, keep yourself hydrated. Drinking more water lubricates the joints and muscles. This minimizes pain and stiffness!