Living with Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease is the on-going degeneration of the discs in the spine, and leads to pain in your neck or back. When you have degenerative disc disease, you might experience chronic pain along with times of extreme pain. People with degenerative disc disease might also experience numbness, a “pins and needles” sensation, or weakness. They could also encounter sensations of hot pain that radiate from the neck and shoots down the shoulder and arm, or radiates down the back into the buttocks and legs.

The areas that are most susceptible to disc degeneration are the cervical spine, which is the neck, and the lumbar spine, which is the lower back.

Degenerative Disc Disease Explained

A diagnosis of degenerative disc disease can sound very frightening. While it is something to take seriously, the first thing to clear up is that it is not a “disease” that is attacking your body, like cancer. Instead, it refers to the breaking down of your discs from age and natural wear and tear. It is actually quite common in people over the age of 50.

Also, many people hear the term degenerative disc disease and assume that “degenerative” means that the pain will get worse over time, and only increase as you age.

However, the word “degenerative” only describes the wear and tear on the discs. While your degeneration can continue over time, many people who seek out the help of a doctor are able to gain relief from various treatments, both surgical and nonsurgical.

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease Pain

A degenerative disc does not necessarily mean pain. You experience pain when the disc starts to impede and press upon other parts of your spine, like your nerves and muscle. Radiculopathy is the term used when nerves become inflamed and you experience pain radiating down in your you arms and fingers, or buttocks and legs.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

The greatest indicator of degenerative disc disease is a constant, chronic pain that then flares up with great intensity. You can feel this in your cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) region. These flare ups can be caused by a simple action, such as bending over to tie your shoes, or twisting. Or, you can just experience this discomfort without being able to pinpoint the exact cause. You may experience a rise in pain for several days to several weeks before it diminishes.

You may experience other symptoms, such as:

●     A feeling of weakness or your back “giving out”

●     Difficulty and pain in turning your neck

●     Sharp, hot pain radiating down your limbs

●     Difficulty with activities that include twisting, bending, or lifting

●     Muscle spasms

●     Increased pain when holding a position, or decreased pain when changing positions, such as going from standing up to laying down.

Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease

The goal of most treatment for degenerative disc disease is to manage pain and prevent new ones.

To manage the pain, you can use heat or ice, and medication. For mild to moderate pain, over the counter pain relievers are recommended. Some serious pain may require a prescription for muscle relaxants or even a narcotic for short-term relief.

Other remedies include epidurals. An epidural is a steroid shot injected into the spine’s protective outer layer. Manual manipulation can help remove pressure from the nerve, joint, or muscle. Other people have success with acupuncture, acupressure, or massage therapy.

We view surgery as the last and final resort, and only when medically indicated. Surgery is not an option for a lot of people who experience Degenerative Disc Disease, unless it is accompanied by a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or other spinal injury. We always exhaust every non-surgical option before we turn to surgery.

If you are diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, do not give up. There are many methods of pain relief and exercises that can lead you to live a happy, healthy, and pain-free life.

Dr. Donald Hope