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Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back pain, especially in young adults. Yet the term “degenerative disc disease” can be misleading. While “degenerative” implies that the symptoms will get worse over time, the good news is that the condition may worsen however not the symptoms. In fact, back pain from degenerative disc disease typically gets better with age. The term “disease” is another misnomer. Degenerative disc disease is actually a condition that can at times produce pain from a damaged disc.

Degenerative Disc Disease is one of the most common causes of back pain.Causes Of Degenerative Disc Disease

Over the course of their lives, all people naturally exhibit changes in their discs to a greater or lesser degree of degeneration. For this reason, degenerative disc disease is highly variable in its nature/severity and not all people develop painful symptoms. Some theories attribute pain from degenerative disc disease to:

  • A disc injury which leads to an inflammatory reaction and results in low back pain

  • Some individuals have nerve endings which penetrate more deeply into the outer annulus of the spine, making their degenerated discs more likely to generate pain

Degenerative disc disease pain is usually activity related, meaning it will flare up occasionally but should subside to a low-grade pain level or the pain will go away. While severe or disabling pain is rare, people may experience a baseline of chronic pain which ranges from nagging irritation to intense pain. The condition can also cause leg pain, numbness and tingling.

Activities which exacerbate degenerative disc disease low back pain are bending, lifting, twisting, and prolonged sitting (as the disc loads are three times greater than when standing). Changing positions frequently, lying down, and walking and running reduce stress on the disc space and therefore alleviate pain.

Fortunately, symptoms of degenerative disc disease tend to subside over time, as the discs become stiffer with age, which stabilizes the motion segment and reduces pain.

Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment Options:

  • Low back pain exercises

  • Proper ergonomics and posture

  • Pain relief/anti-inflammatory medications

  • Heat and/or ice therapy

  • Epidural injections

  • Mild electrical stimulation to override painful signals sent to the lower back

  • Ultrasound (used in cases of acute low back pain to warm the area, thereby increasing blood flow and nutrients)

  • Therapeutic low back massage to improve blood flow, reduce muscle stiffness, and increase range of motion

  • Weight loss to decrease the amount of stress on the low back muscles and ligaments