The discs of our spine are finicky. As we age, they tend to bulge and sometimes herniate, causing back pain. This impacts the lives of millions of Americans. In fact, up to 80 percent of the U.S. population over age 55 is thought to have bulging spinal discs to some degree. These changes in the spinal discs are referred to as degenerative disc disease.
At Coastal Spine, we have various treatment programs to address degenerative disc disease, from therapy to epidural injections to surgery.
What do the spinal discs do and what goes wrong?
Degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease, but is a term used to describe these changes in the spinal discs as we age. When young, our spinal discs are soft, compressible discs that separate the interlocking bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine. The discs are the spine’s shock absorbers, allowing the vertebrae to flex, bend, and twist.
As we age, our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, hence the name. The discs can lose fluid. This reduces their ability to act as shock absorbers, and they become less flexible. The discs then become thinner, so there is less space between vertebrae.
The outer membrane of the disc can be torn or develop cracks. This allows the jellylike material inside the disc to squeeze its way out. This can cause the disc to bulge, rupture, or break into fragments. The material then can press on nerves causing back pain. If the membrane breaks, the disc is herniated.
Who suffers from degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease is more common in obese people, those whose work involves heavy physical lifting, and smokers. An acute injury such as a car wreck can lead to a herniated disc and begin a pattern of degeneration.
As the discs become thinner the body reacts in a defense mechanism by building bony growths. These bone spurs can then put pressure on the spinal nerve roots or the spinal cord, resulting in pain and problems with nerve function. If not addressed this can lead to numbness in the arms and legs, loss of fine motor function, even paralysis.
How we treat degenerative disc disease
At Coastal Spine, we often begin with the prescription of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. We’ll get you into a regimen of core strengthening exercises, postural training, physical therapy, and massage as is appropriate. A steroid epidural injection can be a treatment option.
If you have significant degeneration, you likely have bulging discs that are creating pressure on either the nerve roots or the spinal cord. This could be a sign of spinal stenosis, where the spinal canal becomes narrow and allows compression of the nerves or spinal cord. In these cases, we can perform what is known as a laminoplasty or a laminectomy to create room in the spinal canal and relieve the compression.
If you have continuing back pain, you likely have degenerative disc disease. Call the team at Coastal Spine. With four locations across New Jersey, we can treat the problem before it becomes more involved and get you back to your life again. Call us at (856) 222-4444 to set up an appointment.