Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of lower back and neck pain, and it is also one of the most misunderstood.
When a back is young and healthy, discs between the vertebra provide height and allow bending, flexion, and twisting. The discs work like shock absorbers, designed to help the back remain flexible while resisting forces and impact from daily activity. As aging occurs, the rubbery discs begin to shrink and lose integrity, resulting in lower back and neck pain. In other words, these discs degenerate over time. This degenerative condition–though not actually a disease–is referred to as degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine can cause pain in the lower back, hips, and legs. Painful disc degeneration is common in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). These areas of the spine undergo the most motion and stress and are most susceptible to disc degeneration.
Common Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Disc degeneration is actually a natural part of aging; however, not all people will develop symptoms. Patients who do develop symptoms, however, will generally find they are concentrated in the lower back or neck, depending on where the degenerated disc(s) are. In some cases, degenerative disc disease also causes weakness, numbness, and shooting pains in the arms or legs (Cervical Radiculopathy). Degenerative disc disease typically ranges from lower level chronic pain with intermittent episodes of more severe pain.
Facet joints, which are found in the posterior aspect of the spine (or the back end), together with the discs in the front or anterior aspect, give the spine balance and stability. These facet joints can degenerate over time, just like the disc (sometimes more so), and are an important source of pain in the neck or lower back and may also give rise to muscle spasms which may in turn also lead to pain.
Common symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:
- Activity-related pain that flares up but then returns to a low-grade pain level, or disappears entirely
- Pain that is worse when sitting
- Pain that affects the low back, buttocks and thighs
- Pain that sometimes radiates from the neck to the arms and hands
- Pain that lessens when walking, moving, changing positions or lying down
- Pain that worsens when bending, lifting or twisting
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop (possible nerve root damage)
- Periods of severe pain that come and go, lasting from a few days to a few months
Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment in North Houston, TX
The good news about degenerative disc disease is that it is approached with various conservative treatment options rather than surgery. Minimally invasive surgery may be needed for some patients.
Non-Surgical Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease
The focus of this part of treatment is reducing pain to a level that will allow the patient to enter a specific exercise and rehabilitation program. Since instability and inflammation are probable causes for degenerated discs, those two areas are generally addressed.
Medications can also help with pain management. Acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral steroids, muscle relaxants, and narcotic pain medications, are examples of medications that a physician may recommend or prescribe. Any medication, including many over-the-counter drugs, should be taken under a physician’s care, direction and supervision. Patients should address any questions about potential side effects with their physician or pharmacist.
Exercise and Rehabilitation
The primary way to get pain under control is to increase the strength and flexibility of muscles that surround and support the spine. Exercising increases blood flow to the back, which nourishes joints and muscles with oxygen and nutrients, while clearing away destructive inflammatory waste products. Exercising also releases endorphins that serve as a natural pain reliever for the body.
Spine specialists are trained in developing individualized back exercise programs and in instructing patients in proper form and technique. Stretches and low-impact aerobic conditioning are two examples of exercises patients may be instructed to do. Exercise should be done in a controlled progressive manner and with the help of a trained health professional, such as a physical therapist or chiropractor.
This part of treatment focuses on education and resources to help the patient develop a healthier lifestyle. Certain lifestyle changes can reduce stress on the spine and even support it. Other changes you can make include cutting back on alcohol consumption, drinking plenty of water, and incorporating more movement into one’s daily routine.
Important areas to focus on include:
Supportive footwear, ergonomic furniture, proper lifting techniques, and avoiding static posture for prolonged periods of time can help alleviate pressure off the low back.
- Weight loss
Losing weight can reduce low back pain by lessening the amount of stress on muscles and ligaments.
- Quitting smoking
Quitting smoking can improve blood circulation and healing. Chronic tobacco use is closely linked to chronic back pain.
Minimally Invasive Surgeries for Degenerative Disc Disease in North Houston, TX
If back or neck pain caused by degenerative disc disease doesn’t respond to non-surgical treatments or medication, Dr. Fayaz may recommend a surgical procedure. Every patient’s needs vary, and several minimally invasive surgeries are available to treat degenerative disc disease. Dr. Fayaz may remove some or all of a damaged disc, take pressure off a pinched nerve, or eliminate movement between the bones of the spine. Some surgical procedures include a spinal fusion with discectomy or artificial disc replacement. Talk with him for more information about your specific back pain and condition so that you can become free of back pain and start on the road to getting your life back.
If you are in the North Houston, Conroe, The Woodlands, Spring area and believe you need to see a spine specialist for degenerative disc disease, call our office at 281-880-0700 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fayaz.