How Does Degenerative Disc Disease Affect the Spine?

The spinal cord is an essential part of the human body. An essential part of the body's central nervous system (in conjunction with the brain). The spine is responsible for keeping us upright and connecting the different parts of the skeleton to parts like the head, chest, pelvis, shoulders, legs, and arms.  


Our spinal cord has multiple functions like carrying our weight, help with movement, relay electrical signals from the brain to the muscles of our skeleton and internal organs, and transmit sensory information like touch, pressure, heat, cold, and pain. 

 

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

 

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Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of lower back pain and neck pain. It is most commonly caused due to the wear-and-tear on your spinal disc with age, leading to weakness, numbness, and hot shooting pain in the arms and legs.

 

Despite being called a disease, it is actually a condition in which natural, age-related degeneration of your spinal disc causes pain and instability in movement. Most cases of a degenerative disc can be managed using non- surgical treatment methods.

 

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease Pain?  


Degenerative Disc Disease pain can occur due to two major reasons:

  1. Inflammation: Disk inflammation can lead to muscle tension and cause painful muscle spasms. Inflammation, especially in your nerve roots can lead to radiating pain and numbness in your arms and shoulder (due to cervical disk degeneration) that can radiate into your arm and shoulder as well as your hips and legs (in cases of lumbar disk degeneration).

  2. Abnormal Micromotion: Micromovements between your vertebrae can also cause great pain. Caused due to the degeneration of the outer disk layer, micromotions can irritate your nerve roots, muscles and joints and progressively lead to major spinal instability that can cause intense bouts of pain.

How is Degenerative Disc Disease Treated?


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Degenerative disc disease can be treated with pain management techniques, physical therapy, and a few other methods like

  1. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications
  2. Prescription pain medications
  3. Heat and ice
  4. Massage therapy
  5. Epidural steroid injections (ESIs)


In many cases, multiple treatment methods are needed for effective pain management. A process of trial and error is typically necessary to find the treatments that best provide meaningful pain relief.

Physical Therapy and Activity Modification


Exercise and Physical Therapy :

Physical therapy is the most suggested method to maintain a healthy movement in the spinal cord. A low back exercise program should include a combination of:

  1. Stretching exercises for muscles in the low back, hips, and pelvis, as well as the hamstring muscles. Lower back pain is often caused due to tightness in these muscles.
  2. Strengthening exercises that build lower back and abdominal muscles.
  3. Low-impact aerobic exercise that elevates the heart rate to improve circulation and deliver nutrients and oxygen necessary for healing the body’s tissues. Activities like walking, swimming, and water aerobics are good options. 

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