Degenerative disc disease (DDD) isn’t really a disease. Instead, it’s a condition where damage to a spinal disc causes pain. Degeneration usually starts in your 40s, but it may start as early as in your 20s. It can take decades, though, before you feel its effects because it’s a gradual process, though not everyone develops symptoms.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, osteopathic physician Dr. Richard Bernstein understands how difficult degenerative disc disease can make even the smallest of movements. That’s why he offers an integrative approach to treatment that takes advantage of your body’s natural ability to recover. Here, he describes the telltale signs of DDD, as well as its treatments.
Your spine stacked up
Your spine is strong and stiff enough so you can stand up straight, yet flexible enough so you can bend, flex, and twist. It contains 24 interlocking bony vertebrae, each separated by soft intervertebral discs to absorb shock when you move. The outer part of each disc, the annulus, is firm, while the inner material, the nucleus, is more gel-like. If the annulus bulges or tears, the gel can ooze out and compress spinal nerve roots, causing a great deal of pain.
Each vertebra attaches to the one above and below it by two articular processes; the resulting joints are called facet joints. Together the vertebrae and intervertebral discs form the spinal column, surrounding and protecting the spinal canal, which contains nerves.
Cartilage cushions each facet joint, but wear-and-tear from constant movement can break the cartilage down, exacerbating degeneration of the bones and the discs.
Degeneration can occur in any region of the spine, but it’s most common in the cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) spine, because these are the regions that move the most.
Telltale signs of degenerative disc disease
Disc degeneration naturally happens as you age, and because the discs don’t have their own blood supply, they can’t easily repair themselves. As the disc degenerates, it can produce symptoms. The most characteristic symptom is low-grade, continuous pain near the disc site that occasionally flares into more severe or disabling pain.
Other symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:
- Instability: feeling that the spine can’t support you
- Feeling that spine is “locked”
- Muscle tension or muscle spasms
- Increased pain when you bend, twist, or lift something heavy
- Hot, sharp, radiating pain that travels into extremities (radiculopathy); sciatica is a good example of lumbar radiculopathy
- Increased pain when sit or stand for extended periods or look down at a phone or book (“tech neck”)
- Reduced pain when stretch the spine
- Decreased pain with certain positions, such lying with a pillow under the knees
If you experience symptoms, it’s time to come into Santa Cruz Osteopathic for an evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.
Causes of degenerative disc disease
Normal wear-and-tear isn’t the only cause of DDD. Other causes include:
- Repeatedly lifting or carrying heavy or bulky objects
- Playing high-impact sports
- Sustaining back injuries: cause swelling and soreness
- Having the right (wrong) genes: a 2016 study in Genes & Diseases found several genetic defects associated with changes inside spinal discs
- Having a spinal disease, such as ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory spine condition that causes vertebral fusion)
- Carrying too much weight: increases the load on your spine and compresses the spinal discs, according to a 2012 study in Arthritis & Rheumatology.
- Smoking: causes dehydration, leading to degeneration
Most often DDD results from a combination of factors.
Treating degenerative disc disease
In most cases, DDD doesn’t require surgery. Dr. Bernstein uses a customized, integrative approach that helps you enjoy better whole-body health. Treatments include:
Osteopathic manual medicine (OMM)
Dr. Bernstein uses hands-on manipulation, including stretching, resistance, and light pressure to reduce pain and recover function.
Stem cells regenerate damaged discs with an infusion of new cells, reducing inflammation.
Spinal decompression therapy
The SpineMED® system uses precise computerized adjustments to move the spine around degenerating discs, relieving pressure and allowing for healing blood flow.
Dr. Bernstein may also recommend therapeutic exercise to increase your range of motion and improve your spinal support.
Do you have telltale signs of degenerative disc disease? Don’t struggle with pain any longer; Santa Cruz Osteopathic can help. Give the office a call at 831-464-1605, or book your consultation online.