Conditions > Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease Relief

Quick Summary

  • Over time, discs between the vertebrae begin to wear down. Water inside the disc is squeezed out, the outside fibrous ring hardens, and the disc can fragment and herniate.

  • Symptoms can occur in the neck, the mid back, or the low back as degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere along the spine.

  • A thinning disc can be the main cause of your pain. But other pain generators in the neck, mid back, and low back can occur alongside degenerative disc disease.


Quick Jump Menu


What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition where pain is experienced in the discs between the bones in your spine. These bones are known as the vertebrae.

Between each of the bones in your spine sits a fluid-filled disc. These discs are mainly composed of a gel-like water substance, and have a fibrous outer coating. These discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae as they bear weight while you walk, stand, and sit.

 

In fact, when you lay down at night, your discs decompress, allowing water to flow back inside. This is why you are actually slightly taller in the morning than in the evening. Your discs, therefore, are living, “breathing” structures.

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What causes degenerative disc disease?

Over time, discs between the vertebrae begin to wear down. Water inside the disc is squeezed out, the outside fibrous ring hardens, and the disc can fragment and herniate.

 

Pain occurs when the disc herniates, or cracks, and the gel-like fluid extrudes through the crack. This is a herniated disc. As water inside the disc is squeezed out and the disc begins to thin, you may experience pain, bone on bone wear, arthritis, bones spurs, and sensations often associated with an “old” or degenerative back.

 

Perhaps most importantly is that all of this leads to increased stress in the structures in your back. This means your muscles, ligaments, and tendons are affected as the disc thins and the spine becomes less stable.

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Degenerative disc disease symptoms

Degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere along the spine. It can occur in the neck, the mid back, or the low back. Degenerative disc disease symptoms can include:

 

  • Pain radiating down the arms

  • Pain radiating up the neck into the head

  • Pain radiating from the low back down into the legs

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Cervical degenerative disc disease

Cervical degenerative disc disease describes painful degeneration of the discs in the neck. If you experience cervical degenerative disc disease, you may experience neck pain, discomfort in the head and shoulders, and neck stiffness.

Natural treatments that stabilize the muscles and ligaments in the head and shoulder area can relieve neck and shoulder pain from a degenerating disc.

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Lumbar degenerative disc disease

Lumbar degenerative disc disease describes pain from a degenerating disc in the low back area. Painful disc degeneration in this area manifests as a dull and ongoing pain as muscles and ligaments strain to maintain stability in the low back.

As the disc thins, pain can also come from contact with the nerves running through the spine. More likely, however, lower back pain comes from muscles and ligaments straining to maintain stability of the spinal column.

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Advanced degenerative disc disease

In advanced and severe cases of degenerative disc disease, pain can be so severe that it limits your daily activities. As the disc continues to collapse, it can begin to push on the nerves of the spine, causing intense and severe pain that can become debilitating.

 

If you are experiencing severe and ongoing pain as a result of degenerative disc disease, you may need to consider epidural steroid injections. In cases where the disc is severely damaged, spinal fusion surgery may be the best treatment.

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Treatment for degenerative disc disease

A thinning disc can be the main cause of your pain. But there are other pain generators in the neck, mid back, and low back that can occur alongside degenerative disc disease.

 

Living with a constant pain can force you to change how you walk, sit, and lie down, which can then cause muscles, ligaments, and tendons to strain to maintain stability in the spine. This straining can cause additional pain.

 

Natural treatments that stabilize these structures can significantly reduce pain. Treatments for degenerative disc disease include:

 

  • Osteopathic manipulation

  • Acupuncture

  • Prolotherapy

  • Anti-inflammatory pain medication (NSAIDs)

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Osteopathic manipulation for degenerative disc disease

Osteopathic manipulation treatments relieves pain from a degenerating disc by mobilizing tight muscles, maintaining mobility in joints, and circulating fluids surrounding the problem disc. When muscles, joints, and fluids become stuck and decrease in mobility, pain is most often the result.


Acupuncture for degenerative disc disease

Acupuncture helps relieve pain from a degenerating disc by increasing your body's endorphins, which act as natural painkillers. This helps to decrease your sensations of pain. In addition, inserting the acupuncture needles into the tight muscles increases blood flow to the problem area, and can also help break up trigger points.


Prolotherapy for degenerative disc disease

Prolotherapy can also be an effective way to reduce pain from a degenerating disc. Prolotherapy is a regenerative injection therapy that helps stabilize the spine by stabilizing weakened ligaments and tight muscles.

Some studies suggest that stem cell placement into the intervertebral disc may be helpful, but this treatment is still at an investigative stage at this point.


Pain medication for degenerative disc disease

In cases where your pain continues to get worse, you may consider incorporating anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain during episodes of disc pain flare-ups. If you experience ongoing pain, please consult your primary physician.

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Going to see your doctor

If you feel you may have degenerative disc disease because you experience constant, dull pain along the spine, get evaluated by your doctor as early as you can. Typically with early treatment, we can slow down disc degeneration, increase mobility, and help you return to enjoying life without pain.

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References

Understanding degenerative disc disease (DDD) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335178/

Diagnosing degenerative disc disease? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401540/

Can prolotherapy help DDD pain? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16703971

Osteopathic manipulation for DDD pain relief? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1208896/

Written by: Dr. Dan Williams, DO
Last edited: December 10, 2018

 

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