Have you been experiencing mild to severe back or neck pain that seems to come and go at random? Perhaps, you’re one of several million Americans suffering from degenerative disc disease.
Dealing with degenerative disc disease can be exhausting. Although there’s no way to cure the condition, there are plenty of ways to treat your pain and prevent it from worsening.
What Exactly Is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease happens when your spinal discs dry out or crack, causing your bones to rub against each other.
The discs, which resemble circular capsules, are located between the vertebrae and are an important part of your spinal column. They are filled with a gel-like substance and provide ample cushioning between the vertebrae to help you perform a variety of physical movements comfortably.
As you age, your spinal discs dry out and shrink. Disc shrinkage means less cushioning and can potentially lead to nerve irritation, resulting in neck or low back pain. Typically, disc degeneration occurs after age 40, although not everyone will experience pain or the same types of symptoms.
For example, some people may develop degenerative scoliosis (unnatural spine curvature) due to the loss of support from shrinking, less pliable discs. Others might suffer a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
You can decrease your risk of developing degenerative disc disease by maintaining a healthy weight and abstaining from lifestyle risk factors, like smoking.
People who’ve suffered acute injuries or perform heavy physical labor are especially prone to developing the disease.
How Is Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosed?
Your doctor will likely begin by asking you detailed questions about your pain and its location. They may ask which activities trigger the pain, where the pain is located and if there are any other symptoms associated with your pain, such as numbness or tingling in your limbs.
Your orthopedist or pain specialist may also press on your neck and parts of your back to measure the severity of your pain, and order imaging tests, like an X-ray, CT scan or MRI.
Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease
Chronic pain associated with degenerative disc disease can interfere significantly with your everyday activities. For instance, you might experience sharp back pain when picking up your grandkids or carrying groceries inside your home.
There are many non-invasive and minimally invasive treatment options that may help alleviate your symptoms:
- Pharmaceuticals: Your doctor may recommend or prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, Ibuprofen or Aleve), muscle relaxers or steroids, depending on the severity of your condition
- Steroid injections, such as inflammation-reducing epidural injections
- PRP injections, which stand for platelet-rich plasma, a regenerative therapy that some believe can slow disc degeneration
- Physical therapy: Your doctor may recommend gentle stretching and exercise under the supervision of a certified physical therapist
- Spinal cord stimulation: A minimally invasive surgery in which a neurostimulation implant is placed in the body and produces electrical signals in the spine to block pain signals from making their way to the brain
Treating Degenerative Disc Disease at Home
Many people suffering from degenerative disc disease combine medically-prescribed treatments with at-home remedies for enhanced pain relief. While these aren’t necessarily long-term solutions to your chronic pain, at-home treatments can help bring temporary relief and increase your overall well-being. Consider trying:
- Hot and cold therapies to reduce swelling, pain and inflammation
- Gentle stretching to relieve stiff muscles
- Low-impact exercise, like swimming or walking, to help you relax, relieve body aches and strengthen muscles
What About Surgery?
Surgery can be an excellent option for people whose degenerative disc disease has not responded to less aggressive intervention. If your pain is severe and causes a significant loss of function, your best choice may be to undergo surgery. Depending on the severity of your pain and your unique condition, your doctor may recommend one of the following surgical options:
- Laser surgery: A minimally invasive surgery that uses heat to decompress the disc and relieve pain
- Artificial disc replacement: As the name suggests, the damaged disc is replaced with an artificial device placed between two vertebrae
- Lumbar fusion: Connecting two or more vertebrae by placing bone or bonelike material within the empty space between them
Discover the Right Pain Management Solution for You
At AllSpine Laser and Surgery Center, we provide Georgia patients with a variety of minimally invasive and surgical treatments to help them find relief from chronic back pain.
Our highly qualified spine surgeons and physiatrists would be happy to give you a second opinion for your surgery. We’ll ensure all other less-invasive treatment alternatives have been explored prior to your procedure.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (770) 997-0600.