Degenerative Disc Diseases – Conditions and Treatment Options
Definition of degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a medical term that is used to describe the degeneration of the cartilage or disc between the bones (vertebrae) in the spine. In a healthy spine the disc acts as a shock absorber and is sandwiched between two vertebrae or bones in the spine. The discs obtain nutrients through the natural movement of the spine. When the bones above and below the discs are not moving properly they cannot pump nutrients into the disc. Therefore, over time the discs become dehydrated, and ultimately lose their disc height.
As a result of losing their disc height, they become weak and thin therefore degenerated, and no longer provide the proper separation and shock absorption between vertebrae. Additionally, the degeneration process of an intervertebral disc can cause nerve impingement and chronic pain. The pain can vary from person to person, some degenerative disc disease can occur throughout the spine; however, the lower back (lumbar) and neck (cervical) are the most common areas for degeneration. Other terms that can be used instead of degenerative disc disease are disc degeneration, disc dehydration, or disc desiccation.
There are many reasons a disc degenerates; however, the primary reason is due to insufficient amounts of nutrients getting into the disc usually due to aging or trauma. Trauma induced disc degeneration can mean several things, a person can have a prior fall or an injury that could accelerate the degeneration process. Other sudden injuries can lead to tiny cracks or tears in the disc which can cause a disc bulge or extruded disc that can cause slow leakage of the jelly-like material out of the disc. Repetitive motions or physical work, such as lifting heavy objects can also weaken discs setting up the disc for weakness, bulges, and ultimately degeneration.
Doctors typically use degenerative disc disease as natural disc aging and trauma induced discs interchangeably. Obesity, genetics and scoliosis can also play a role in how fast your discs age.
In life, weight, gravity, and stresses and strains of the body take a toll on the spine. A disc needs to be well hydrated for it to be functional, strong, and to be able to support the gravitational forces to carry the downward weight of the body (axial load). A healthy disc acts as a shock absorber or cushion between the vertebrae in the spine. The disc is made up of proteoglycan and collagen. The outer part of the disc is called the annulus and the inner part is referred to as the nucleus.
The disc is mainly comprised of water; 80% water in the nucleus and 65% water in the annulus. As the disc loses water and can’t support the body’s weight, the stress (over-load) on the disc can shift outward toward the annulus of the disc which eventually cause degenerative disc disease and possible annular tears and herniations. In addition, the loss of the shock absorbers between the bones makes the spine less stable and the body reacts by changing the shape of the vertebrae by growing osteophytes (bone spurs), see picture below.
Even though an Xray and CT scan can diagnose disc degeneration, an MRI is a great test to see how much water content is in the disc and diagnose DDD.
Symptoms and Conditions
Other conditions and symptoms that can occur in the spine due to disc degeneration are:
- Herniated, bulging, or protruding discs (because of weakening of the disc)
- Annular tears (on the outer part of the disc)
- Osteoarthritis, osteophytes (bone spurs)
- Spinal stenosis (central canal stenosis and foraminal stenosis)
- Pinched nerves (i.e., sciatic nerve pain)
- Low back pain
- Neck pain
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the extremities
Lack of range of motion or pain can occur when twisting, bending, or flexing of the neck or low back. The conditions above can also place added pressure on the nerves and spinal cord that can leads to pain, loss of function, and can impact a person’s quality of life. Additional pain can radiate to the buttock, hips, or legs and neck conditions can radiate in the shoulders, arms, and hands.
The treatment for degenerative disc disease usually includes anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication, physical therapy, chiropractic, or spinal injections. In some cases surgery is recommended; however, most people do not want to risk dealing with the serious complications associated with spinal surgery.
At the Atlas Medical Center in Irving, TX, Dr. Robert Hanson takes a different approach to resolving your pain. His Cold Laser Low Back and Neck Program combines cold laser therapy along with spinal decompression therapy and physiotherapy to provide individuals with a non-invasive, painless, and most importantly effective solution for the treatment of degenerative disc disease.
If you are looking for a non-surgical solution call our office for a consultation/evaluation to see if Dr. Hanson’s Cold Laser Program in Dallas-Fort Worth can help you.
*This therapy is completely safe and comfortable for almost everyone. Patients report that therapy is relaxing and painless!
Irving Chiropractor treats Degenerative Disc Disease and the associated pain at the Atlas Medical Center, with a combination of cold laser, spinal decompression, and other therapies. Degenerative Disc Disease pain relief in Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.