Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) usually affects older people as it accompanies aging. However, DDD can also occur when a person is injured or experiences trauma. Most people don’t have a problem with DDD, but certain individuals do, and they can suffer spinal stiffness, rigidity, and pain. In fact, sometimes their lives are greatly affected and their activities restricted because of excruciating pain.
There are three regions in your spine—the cervical (the neck), thoracic (mid-back), and lumbar (lower back, which also includes your sacrum and coccyx, known as the tailbone). DDD usually occurs in either the cervical or lumbar region. When it’s in the neck pain can radiate to the shoulders, arms, or hands, and when it’s the lumbar region pain can radiate to the hips, buttocks, or thighs.
The three spinal regions are made up of irregular shaped bones known as vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are intervertebral discs. Each intervertebral disc also has a tough elastic outerband (annulus fibrosus) and an inner gel-like substance (nucleus pulposus). The intervertebral disc acts as a cushion or shock absorber for the vertebrae whenever you run, walk, or move and both the vertebrae and intervertebral discs protect the spinal canal and spinal cord.
A person’s outerband is usually the first part to be injured, and although the tear can heal, it’s not as strong as it was before the injury. Therefore, over time it becomes weaker and eventually the gel-like substance leaks or protrudes. This protrusion along with accompanying inflammation can affect the nerves and causes mild to debilitating pain.
DDD sufferers generally have chronic low back pain or chronic neck pain. Sometimes the pain flares up and can last a few days or several months. The pain can also range from mild to severe. It often begins gradually and most sufferers find sitting in the same position aggravates their pain. They also have more pain when they
- Sit for long periods
and less pain when they
- Change positions frequently
- Lie down and rest
DDD sufferers can often be treated successfully without surgery, and there are a number of treatments. Here they are
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture uses fine, thin filiform needles to stimulate the release of serotonin or endorphins, and that’s what helps you heal. Based on the location of your pain, the acupuncturist places the needles in certain spots and they remain in place for twenty to forty minutes. A series of sessions are usually required.
- Chiropractic Care. Chiropractors can help improve pain and realign misaligned vertebrae, which can also help relieve pressure on spinal nerves. They use spinal manipulation to adjust the spine, and they also use electrical stimulation and other therapies to reduce neck and back pain.
- Devil’s Claw. Devil’s Claw is an anti-inflammatory herbal remedy. Although it is usually safe, long-term use is unknown. It has been used in Africa to treat arthritis and certain gastrointestinal problems. Devil’s Claw by Nature’s Herbs is available in capsule form, and you should always follow package directions if you decide to take it.
- Epidural Steroid Injections. These injections are not always successful and are usually not used until other treatments have failed. It is a combination of Cortisone and a local anesthetic.
- Exercise. Exercise is needed for long-term management of DDD. In fact, it is one of the most important aspects for DDD sufferers. Exercises usually include strengthening the abdominal and spinal musculature, so as to slow down the degeneration. Ron S. Miller, a physical therapist at Spine Health, has some excellent exercises for DDD sufferers.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Medications (NSAIDs). These drugs are anti-inflammatory and non-narcotic. Prominent members of this drug group include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen, all of which are available over-the-counter. NSAIDs are quite successful at reducing pain and inflammation, and they’re considered relatively safe.
- Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). This is a form of therapy usually used in conjunction with mainstream treatments. It uses physical contact to improve impaired musculo-skeletal function, and techniques are applied to the joints, muscles, and surrouding soft tissue.
- Prolotherapy. Prolotheraphy is a mild irritant solution known as a “proliferant” that is injected into the problem area. By irritating the ligaments, it’s supposed to give jump start the body towards healing itself.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e). SAM-e has been used clinically with great success. It is known for a helping a variety of illnesses—depression, fibromyalgia, liver disorders, migraine headaches, and osteoarthritis. It offers anti-inflammatory effects and reduces pain. Read SAM-e and Osteoarthritis to learn more.
- Vitamin C. This vitamin has been used to help relieve osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis by producing and maintaining collagen, which then supports injured and aging tissues, but more importantly it helps back pain and pain associated with inflamed intervertebral discs.
- White Willow Bark. This herbal remedy is used as a substitute for aspirin because it doesn’t irritate the stomach. It is successful in relieving pain and reducing inflammation.
If you decide to take any of the herbal remedies mentioned or if
Here are some other tips to help you find relief:
- Don’t sleep on your stomach
- Don’t wear high heels
- Maintain proper body weight, as extra weight can increase back pain
- Put your feet up when sitting for extended periods of time
- Use good posture
- When lifting, bend at the knees and hold items close to your body
- When standing for long periods of time, put one foot on a box or stool to help relieve back pressure
In addition, I have three other suggestions you may find of interest:
- Dealing with Degenerative Disc Disease is a DVD based on the award winning public television series Healthy Body/Healthy Mind that provides information on new physical therapy techniques and surgical breakthroughs. The techniques are similar to artificial knee technology and can often reduce or eliminate pain related to DDD.
- Treat Your Back Without Surgery: The Best Nonsurgical Alternatives for Eliminating Back and Neck Pain is based on the acclaimed Texas Back Institute’s successful nonsurgical treatments for back injuries. This book provides proven exercises, natural healing techniques, and relieves back pain noninvasively.
- Goodbye Back Pain: A Suffers Guide to Full Back Recovery and Future Prevention is a book that looks at various back problems, including DDD. It offers exercises, stretching, and relaxation techniques and tells you how to avoid surgery and alleviate back pain in a sensible straight forward manner.