Degenerative disc disease
Do you have chronic lower back pain or spinal stiffness that just won’t go away? Have you had an x-ray recently and been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease? Degenerative disc disease (also known as degenerative disc disorder or DDD) can be very painful and greatly affect quality of life.
What causes degenerative disc disease?
DDD is actually an arthritic disorder that can start with or without a known injury to the back. The intervertebral disc structure between each spinal bone absorbs compressive shock and offers tensile strength. “Visualize the disc like a jelly doughnut,” says Dr. Patricia Andrews, an Edmonton chiropractor.
“The centre of the disc, called the nucleus pulposis, is jelly-like and mostly made up of water. The outside of the disc, called the annulus fibrosis, is tough and thick and mostly composed of collagen.”
As we age, the water content of the disc diminishes, causing it to dry out and become fibrotic (tough and brittle). As the disc becomes fibrotic it can develop tears. In some instances, the jelly centre can migrate outwards and become a disc herniation that can produce very severe symptoms in some people. These tears cause a local reaction to protect the area so the bone develops spurs and the ligaments become thickened.
“This is the body’s way of stabilizing the affected area, but it actually contributes to the progression of arthritis,” says Dr. Andrews.
As the disc narrows it also compresses the joints of the spine causing abnormal wear and tear, and lower back pain for some. The compression can irritate the nerve exiting between the spinal bones producing leg pain, and numbness or weakness in the lower extremities. Surprisingly, degenerative disc disease can be a very debilitating condition for some, but others feel no discomfort.
Treatment options for degenerative disc disease
“Staying mobile is absolutely critical for individuals with degenerative disc disease,” says Dr. Andrews. “A core strengthening program and cardio exercises are very important. Non-weight bearing exercises, such as swimming and biking are excellent ways to decrease lower back stress.”
Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the stress on the lower back and eating lots of fruits and vegetables can help heal tissues.
Visiting your chiropractor is important when dealing with DDD – they can assess your lower back and suggest a plan of action. Chiropractic is an excellent means of maintaining mobility of the spine and preventing more severe back problems from occurring.