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Degenerative disc disease is a term we use to describe the normal changes in your spinal disk as you age. Discs absorb shocks and protect the bone of the spine from getting damaged. They allow the back to stay strong and flexible. However, with time and age, the discs may degenerate causing this condition to develop.
Some people suffer from severe disc degenerative disease, due to less cartilage, poor muscles, bad posture, and even obesity. The condition aggravates as the pressure in the spine tends to increase.
This condition is much more common than you might think and it tends to increase as the age progresses. It is usually categorized as a natural process that occurs due to wear and tear. However, in certain cases, it can be triggered due to trauma and injury. This problem is not specific to one gender. Men and women both can experience degenerative disc disease. However, the intensity can vary and depend upon different factors including the reasons behind it.
To put it in the most layman terms, degenerative disc disease can occur from something as simple as poor posture, repetition of the same action and even being careless while picking up heavy objects. The most common factors include:
Age: This is the biggest risk factor. As mentioned earlier, with comes muscular and tissue wear and tear. The muscles and vertebrae start losing strength. This puts pressure on the spine causing degenerative disc disease. Though this condition is not limited to a particular age group, it is most commonly found in people above 50 years.
Pregnancy: Hormonal changes while pregnant can cause muscles and joints to swell and can thus cause degenerative disc disease.
Obesity: Being obese causes a lot of strain on the bone and joints. And consequently damages the spine because of excessive pressure. Repetitive injury to the spine due to being overweight cause extreme fracture and damage.
Diabetes: Often time’s diabetes can also cause degenerative disc disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is another condition that increases the chances of the patient to develop problems like degenerative disc disease. Again, the already weak joints put pressure on the spine causing it to wear off.
Mental Health Issues: Stress can cause strain on the body and that strain can affect the bones and joints.
Injury: Accidents, playing sports or falling can all cause muscles and nerves to get injured. Sometimes, a severe injury can press the backbone which may lead to its discs getting damaged.
Strains: Often time’s people overstretch, or pick heavy items without realizing how much of a strain they are putting on their backs. Improper posture when performing such tasks can cause the muscles and tendons to sprain causing degenerative disc disease.
Physical Activity: Those who are physically inactive and fail to focus on their fitness also suffer from this condition. Making exercise a daily habit, even if it is very minimal, helps cater to such problems and keeps your body in shape. As opposed to this, if you decide to follow a stringent routine all of a sudden, your body suffers from excessive strain and it can speed up the process of disc degeneration.
The most common symptoms of degenerative disc disease may include the following:
It is important to remember that the symptoms may come and go and might not be as constant as you might think. However, bear in mind that as time passes, the condition is likely to worsen. Getting a physician’s consult is of utmost significance in order to find an adequate solution before permanent damage is done.
The doctor is likely to perform a complete physical exam and go through the patient’s medical history. They will also ask about the most prevalent symptoms to rule out other similar conditions. Bear in mind that the best diagnosis can be obtained via your doctor because it may vary as per the severity of the condition.
Muscle strength: The doctor will check for atrophy and any abnormal movement.
Patient’s response to touch: The patient will be asked to move around and touched in specific areas of the back, particularly lower back, to check if they feel any pain.
Ultrasound: This helps present a clear picture of the bone and the muscles surrounding it.
X-rays: X-rays help determine if there are any fractures or ligament injuries that might be compressing the discs.
Discogram: This involves injecting Dye in the center of the disc to check if the disc is painful.
MRI and CT Scans: MRIs and CT scans can help doctors get a clear picture of the soft tissue, nerves, and discs near the area of concern. It helps them pinpoint the main cause of the condition.
Although it takes time, degenerative disc disease is likely to worsen as time goes by so it would require some form of treatment as soon as diagnosed. The main aim of any doctor is to limit any further damage and ease the pain as much as possible.
There are a number of nonsurgical approaches that can be adopted in order to cater for this problem. The first and foremost is medication. Doctors may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin to help reduce inflammation. These drugs also help reduce pain and swelling. Medication is also available to relieve muscles spasms that might be caused as a result of this disease. The doctor is also likely to prescribe proper bed rest for a few weeks and rest in general as well. Any task that might put a strain on the spine should be avoided. During work, especially if it requires a lot of physical activities, short breaks should be taken to allow the back to recover. Repetitive tasks only aggravate the condition.
Physical therapy is another commonly suggested approach. Particular movements can be used to help make the neck and spine stronger. For more severe cases, steroid injections might be prescribed. They can help relieve extreme pain and swelling.
If, however, the condition has worsened and symptoms have some severe, the doctor might recommend surgery. Discectomy is a surgery in which the damaged disc is removed to relieve pressure from the nerves. In certain cases, only the injured part of the disc is removed. However, in more severe cases, the doctor might remove the entire disc and replace it with an artificial one. In general, it is important to remember that early diagnosis may even lead to recovery.