Oftentimes, we hear the word Degenerative Disc Disease as somehow back discomfort, back pain, and back injury. It has been interchangeably thought of as overall pain that occurs in our spine; and while it can hold truth, what exactly is it? Moreover, what comprehensively Degenerative Disc Disease is, and all there is to know about it? Let us find out and dissect all the information necessary in unraveling DDD.
What exactly is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is a condition in which one or more spinal discs in the back begin losing their strength. Actually, DDD despite the name itself is not a disease; but rather a progressive condition that develops over time from wear and tear, injury, or accident.
It causes back and neck pain, weakness, numbness, and hot and shooting pains in the arms and legs; that typically range from low-level chronic pain to severely painful ones. It can interfere with the daily lives of those suffering from it; as there are episodes where severely painful ones can be tricky to manage and mitigate.
The discs are located in between the vertebrae of our spine, they serve as cushions and shock absorbers; and they are the ones making us stand up straight; as well as making us move through everyday functional motions such as twisting and bending around and over.
DDD occurs primarily when the discs wear and tear. It can also be from injury from sports or accidents. Over time; as we grow older our discs naturally dry out, thus can lose their function and support; and generally will cause pains, which will be tackled specifically. Once a disc becomes damaged, it can never refer to itself.
Levels of Pain
Pain level may vary from bearable, mild, strong, and intense. They occur in these places:
- It primarily affects the lower back
- May extend towards legs and buttocks that makes it hard to sit; but can feel immediate relief as you stand and walk
- Your feeling might worsen after twisting and bending and gets better when you change position or lie down
- Can have sharp pains occurring in arms, neck, back
- It comes and goes, either a few days interval or months, and the pain level is unpredictable mainly.
- Muscle spasms
There exist cases of DDD leading to numbness and tingling in arms and legs; it can also weaken the muscle legs. When these happen, it is certain that the damaged risks are affecting the nerves around the spine.
Risk Factors of DDD
Age is the biggest risk factor of developing DDD because as we grow older; our discs naturally shrink down and lose their cushion supports as time goes. Interestingly; almost every adult age 60 years and above has some form of disc degeneration but does not at all emit pain and symptoms of DDD.
The second biggest risk factor goes to a significant back injury, following as the third is Long-term repetitive activities that specifically place pressure on certain discs.
- Suffering car accidents, accidents that comprise the spine.
- Being overweight, obesity.
- A sedentary lifestyle, not really engaging in regular physical activities.
- Those who just engage in weekend physical activities; what is correct is that it should be done every day, with moderate intensity to help strengthen the back without risking the discs being stressed.
Questions to Ask
First things first, DDD is a series of questions that will determine your medical history and your progressive symptoms of DDD. These are some questions that could pop up:
- When was the pain started
- Which part specifically of your back, or spine hurts
- Does the pain spreads through out specific parts or overall parts of your body
- Do you have history of injuries and accidents that somehow affects or damaged your spine
- Do you have loved ones who experience what you are experiencing, are they diagnosed with DDD
Afterward, a series of physical tests will be made, typically an MRI that will help to accurately know the current condition of your spine, and the pain you are actually experiencing including the bone or nerve damage if there is any.
If all is clear to your physician; you will then progress to treating it to provide relief, to keep pain levels at a minimum, and to prevent it from getting any worse.
DDD: Is it Fatal?
Degenerative Disc Disease, as we have discussed, comes in episodes of bearable low mild to strong and intense symptoms. While it has the capacity to interfere with the quality of our lives; effective treatment management, and positive lifestyle changes will help in regaining confidence in living a healthy life. However; DDD that is constantly ignored for a very long time can cause paralysis, but it is really confirmed that it is not life-threatening.
Physicians’ goal is to always ease the pain and to prevent acquiring more spinal damage. Physicians ought to plan the best approach as to how unique are your symptoms, pain level; the overall status of the discs on your spine, and the severity of the condition itself. The treatment plan may include one or some of the following:
In episodes of low to mild symptoms of DDD, over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and aspirins can help mitigate inflammation. They ease the pain and lessen soreness and swelling, providing immediate relief and comfort.
Heat or Cold Therapy
Heat or Cold Therapy is an alternative or enhancer treatment for low to mild symptoms of DDD; Cold packs are best in decreasing pain associated with DDD while heat packs are best in reducing the inflammation that is brought by the pain.
When over-the-counter pain medications seem to not provide relief and ease of pain, prescription medications will take place. This option is usually used when genuinely otc medications do not work; and when the pain level is severely strong and hard to handle, and they should be used with care as it carries the risk of dependency; and should really just be the last resort when pain is severe and unbearable.
Physical therapy will significantly help in gaining back muscle strengths of the back, whilst alleviating pain. Moreover, it provides an improvement in posture, mobility, and DDD symptoms management.
Chiropractors can aid in loosening the stiffness of the affected vertebrae; which will help joints loosen up and gain nourishment through better management of movements. It also aids in relaxing entrapped or compressed nerves that in turn results in alleviated pain and discomfort.
Steroid shots contain strong medications that target pain, inflammation, and swelling. It usually is a shot in epidural space in your back that is a fluid-filled area around the spinal cord; or a shot that is in one of your nerves or muscles.
If all treatments fail to give comfort and healing management around six months; or the pain gets worse more than ever, you are ought to give surgery a shot. Your physician may recommend two of the most helpful surgeries for DDD, artificial disc replacement or a spinal fusion.
Artificial Disc Replacement
This is the procedure of replacing the broken disc with a new disc that is made from medical grade and safe plastic or metal. The benefits of it are:
- Guaranteed mitigated damage from DDD
- Increased comfort and pain management
- It is validated to provide increased range of motion and better flexibility
- Compared to Spinal Fusion, it is a less invasive surgical option. It has less painful period of recovery time, and faster return to everyday normal activities
- It is beneficial as it have little to no probability of post-surgical complications
Spinal Fusion is the procedure of connecting all the affected vertebrae together to help aid in strengthening it. The benefits of it are:
- Guaranteed mitigated damage from DDD
- Increased comfort and pain management
- It helps in giving spine stability and strength
- Regaining independence in doing physical activities, active lifestyle
- Reduced risk of post-laminectomy kyphosis
- High rate of success in surgeries
Long term engagement to exercises specifically designed for DDD lifestyle
Exercises that are specifically designed for the DDD lifestyle are a great supplement together; with all the treatment options stated above. Exercises can help strengthen the muscles that are surrounding the damaged disc. It also increases blood that aids with swelling whilst giving more access to nutrients and oxygen to the affected areas.
The beginner exercise that is usually suggested is stretching, preferably in the morning; and is light and in doing so, it actually helps in treating and managing back pain; while also aids in adding flexibility and muscle strength; if you are to do it regularly. It is a great lifestyle implementation especially for those who are working full time since light stretching does not cause as much effort and its benefits confound overtime
Lifestyle changes that can help improve DDD
DDD cannot be treated and diminish completely, but consistent treatment medications, together with these lifestyle changes will guarantee benefits that relate to pain, discomfort, and limiting beliefs about DDD. We have to remember that small changes and small actions taken every day to accumulate; and compound over time that results in us having a healthy, active, and lively life that concurs and faces all the things we want to be doing. DDD will not end the potential of us having normal, healthy fulfilling lives when we take control of effective treatment and management of it. Let us start.
Do not engage in smoking, or if you are one, quit right away.
Smoking damages the small blood vessels that are responsible for feeding nutrition to our spinal discs. In fact, those who smoke have a three times higher possibility of acquiring back and muscular pains. Quitting it will generate the flow of healthy oxygen and nutrients that are much needed by our spinal disc to stay healthy and intact.
Do not sit for a long period of time.
Sitting for a long period of time can be stressful to your spine as you are stagnant; and not moving, it can immediately cause discomfort and back pain. To help, always set breaks in between your work and do some stretching or periods of the walk.
Avoid stressing or overusing your spine.
Aside from sitting for a long period of time doing activities that will stress your spine, i.e. gymnastics or acrobatic activities should be kept at a healthy amount of time to avoid stress and overuse. Also in doing so, warm-up and cool-down routines are two non-negotiables as they are crucial in spinal health and maintenance.
Invest in ergonomic chairs.
Ergonomic chairs help in pain management, posture support, and more importantly, increase blood circulation. Typical chairs can provide harmful effects, discomfort, slouching, and forward head while ergonomic chairs minimize the risks of them. It is generally advisable for DDD management as it is a great investment for spinal health.
Maintain an uplift posture.
Maintaining a good uplift posture will help in strengthening the spine; it improves the blood flow, it aids in keeping nerves and blood vessels healthy, it provides support in muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the spine area. More importantly, it is a great subtle way of diminishing neck and back pain.
Maintain a healthy weight.
A healthy weight generally correlates to a healthy life as keeping a healthy weight minimizes; the risks of a number of diseases, for instance, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. It is also great for managing the symptoms of DDD as there are no excess fats that will weigh the spine down; it provides great comfort and ease. This is helpful to maintain uplifting posture, more importantly, holistic good physical composure, and of course, psychological composure as well.
Avoid excessive alcohol.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause dehydration and reduce the amount of water in your intervertebral discs. The loss of water in your spinal discs will then turn into pain; which can sometimes be extremely painful because of the discs rubbing together or from the discs pressing on nerves around your spine. Moreover, abusing alcohol generally will ruin your day, which is full of lifestyle changes that can benefit your DDD. It is generally unhealthy and destructive, to our holistic health.
Drink plenty of water, and abide in a healthy balanced diet.
Drinking plenty of water and abiding by a healthy balanced diet is generally a great thing to do that benefits all the systems of our body.
Get a good, adequate sleep.
Adequate sleep will provide much-needed comfort and rest that will benefit the restoration of back health; and management of symptoms of DDD. Moreover, it alleviates mental stress; brain function that will boost discipline that fosters productivity and consistency, in work, in daily routines; and an overall treatment plan.
Abide on your treatment plan.
The treatment plan is the greatest and most crucial lifestyle change as it correlates and helps tremendously with your condition. It sets you up for a healthy normal life that is capable of doing anything you want despite having DDD. And yes, it is really possible.
- Consult and raise your symptoms concerns with your physician.
- Take your oral medication regularly, if advised.
- Engage in physical therapy regularly.
- Get in an exercise routine regularly.
- Engage in your daily stretch routine.
- Consult your physician regularly for updates, maintenance, pain and risk management.
- Pay attention to the severity of your symptoms and talk about it openly to your physician; to further enhance and raise the effectiveness of your treatment plan.
- Pay attention to your progress and improvements and talk about it openly to your physician; to further improve your treatment plan.
Mitigating the Risks of DDD
If you are now young, healthy adults, perhaps you believe that you have subtle signs of back pains, or if you are living with someone that already has DDD and contemplates if that state of living will also be the case for you, worry not. I will list down all of the scientifically backed up proven steps towards preventing acquiring DDD, and it is all lifestyle changes as well, that really go a long way. Remember, a healthy spine correlates healthy life and prevention of stubborn DDD.
Start your journey towards a healthy fit lifestyle.
A healthy and fit lifestyle will benefit you in tremendous ways. In spinal health specifically, you are ought to strengthen your spines, muscles, ligaments, and tendons as well as lively circulation of blood in your back. A healthy and fit lifestyle also accounts for the good formation of your posture.
Stretch all the way, everyday.
Stretching is best for managing great physical activities performance, decreasing the risk of injuries moreover back injuries, helps in making our joints move in its full motion, flexibility enables our muscles to work in its full effectiveness and is just really great in alleviating any form of stress on our back. Stretching is one of the best low-cost protection against DDD.
Practice good posture and form.
Good posture not only aids and protects you from stubborn back pains, muscle strains, overuse disorders, but also aids in improving all the systems of our body, moreover our mental health, and confidence.
Do not smoke, quit smoking.
As smoking already accounts for damaging our blood vessels, those who smoke have a higher risk of nearly 300% of having back pains and yes, acquiring DDD. It is horrifying and overall does not release any benefits to our overall health. If you are struggling to quit, physicians and counselors are always available.
Use proper lifting techniques.
This is to not cause any back injuries or unexpected muscle strains, bring stress in your spine, make your discs herniate that can overtime account for DDD.
Drink water, and cut out excessive colas.
Hydration is the key to the optimum functioning of our joints, organs, and spine. Depriving them of it will cause dehydration, stress, and progressively, back pains that will turn to DDD. Excessive colas, on the other hand, are harmful as it lowers the bone mass density, making our spine prone to being weak and acquiring DDD. Lean into healthier choices.
You should be getting enough vitamin D and calcium, as these two will help maintain and increase bone strength, and lessen the risk of bone-related problems, as well as DDD.
Balance your work and daily life, avoid being sedentary.
As you become overworked, you tend to just rest by either sleeping, or laying on the couch watching your favorite TV shows, or worse, you compromise resting and just continue to abuse your body, when this happens we become sedentary and stagnant and this will lead to a higher risk of acquiring disc disease. We need to always keep moving and engaging in physical activities for optimum spinal health, and overall health. To cope up, manage your time wisely, and set realistic everyday routines that cater to both work and health.
Take care of your mental health.
Mental health problems can give you unhealthy coping mechanisms, and your body will suffer because of that. Taking care of your mental health is so crucial because it determines the quality of our overall health and well-being.
Take care of your physical health.
What you are on the outside, you feel on the inside and what you are on the inside, you feel on the outside. Remember that in order to live healthily, you have to make healthy choices towards making it possible. Always lean on making conscious healthy choices and always prioritize your heart amongst many other things as health is truly our greatest well and in us being healthy, we show up best in every other area of our lives.
Degenerative Disc Disease is a condition that clearly can be managed and treated well accordingly. We can be certain that those who are currently suffering from it can have in no time a life that is normal despite it as there are a lot of healthful things they can do to achieve it. Moreover, those who are becoming worried about acquiring it as they grow older can be certain that the risk of it can be mitigated, managed, and diminished.
Remember that really, our health is our wealth, and let us take action and claim the tremendous truth it holds. Health is a great signifier of how well we are living this life, and it impacts all the facets of it. You, are you taking accountability for your health? It is never too late to do so, and if you are, I applaud you for doing it!