Degenerative Disc Disease

A diagnosis of degenerative disc disease (DDD) doesn't mean that the patient's back is disintegrating. Adults in their thirties and forties often feel lower back pain and get concerned that they will be crippled when they get older. However, this isn't necessarily true. The lower back is often, given time, quite resilient. Chronic lower back pain may not signal a continued deterioration. In fact, the severity of the pain doesn't necessarily correlate with the damage. The individual experiencing increased pains shouldn't jump to the conclusion that his back is getting worse. Much older adults, those of retirement age, experience DDD symptoms because of aging. Not surprisingly, many adults have some level of DDD simply from working, playing, and living. This is a common occurrence because the spinal discs can lose the gel-like fluid that acts as a buffer between the bones of the vertebrae. Over time, tiny cracks may also appear. People who smoke or are obese are especially susceptible to degenerative disc disease. Those individuals who work in occupations that require physical labor, such as a lot of lifting, are also prone to DDD.

Disc damage not only occurs in the lower back, but also in the neck. People who sit at computers for long periods of time often complain of neck aches. Discs in the vertebrae are like shock absorbers. The gel-like center allows the discs to compress as the body moves. Without the elasticity of these discs, it would be impossible for the spine to twist and bend. People's movements would be stiff and stilted if the spine had a long solid bone similar to those in the arms and legs. If the discs are damaged or lose fluid, naturally the individual is going to hurt. Though good posture won't necessarily prevent degenerative disc disease, paying attention to one's neck and back positions may alleviate the symptoms. Computer users should take periodic breaks away from the desk. Chairs and desk tops should be at the right height for the individual user. Ergonomic furniture can help a person maintain good posture while working at the computer. An ergonomic chair offers support to the lower back and the individual should adjust the monitor so that the screen can be seen without bending the neck unnaturally forward for long periods of time.

Sometimes degenerative disc disease is the result of a fall. But whatever the cause, someone who experiences chronic pains in the lower back or neck should seek medical attention. Often the pain comes from an inflammation, but the individual may have an infection that needs treated. Long ago, the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus by asking, "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mark 2:16b-17). A properly-trained physician can diagnose the condition and provide a treatment plan. In addition to taking a medical history and asking about past injuries, the physician may check the patient's reflexes. Additional tests may be ordered. For example, the patient may need x-rays or other imaging tests, such as an MRI or CAT scan. Bone spurs often develop around the area of an injury and these can be seen on the imaging scans. Additionally, when discs are damaged the space between them often narrows. This narrowing may also show up on the x-rays. However, x-rays and imaging tests may not help with the diagnosis at all. This is why the patient will want to seek the medical advice of a degenerative disc disease specialist who is up-to-date on all the latest research and diagnostic tools.

The treatment for DDD often depends on the severity of the pain. A simple change of position can often bring comfort. For example, many individuals with chronic pains feel more comfortable walking than sitting. Ice packs or heat therapy may also bring relief. Over the counter medications can also help. These include such common medications as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen. For more severe pains, the physician may prescribe a stronger medication. It's best when treating degenerative disc disease, even with over the counter medications, to follow a physician's advice. Physical therapy and exercises can also help provide relief and will probably even strengthen other muscles and ligaments that support the spine. Many people will seek the services of a chiropractor and begin a regular routine of spinal manipulations. This type of treatment can help return the spine to its proper alignment.

Surgery for degenerative disc disease should be considered only as a last resort. The surgery may be needed to remove a damaged disc. When this happens, the surgeon might replace the damaged disc with an artificial one or he may fuse the bone. Either way, the patient should research all other options before undergoing this drastic step. It's not unusual for DDD to cause pains to radiate down the individual's hips and legs, Numbing and tingling are not unusual symptoms because the nerves are often affected or damaged. This can lead to other conditions, such as an abnormal bulge known as a herniated disc, spinal steriosis, or osteoarthritis. Though degenerative disc disease isn't necessarily progressive, everyone should do whatever they can to take care of their bodies. This means good nutrition and proper exercise. Be careful when lifting heavy objects and maintain good posture, especially when working at a computer or spending a great deal of time at a desk. The back needs to be taken care of to maintain flexibility and movement.

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