Treating A Degenerated Spinal Disc

Commonly affecting older adults, degenerative disc disease (DDD) is when 1 or more discs in the spine wear away, causing pain. The purpose of spinal discs is to allow ease of movement and facilitate activities such as bending and twisting. As a person gets older, the discs degenerate. Conservative treatment can help, but in some cases, spinal fusion is necessary. Patients should evaluate the following 3 symptoms to determine when back surgery may be required.

1. Aggravating spinal pain

The most common symptom of degenerative disc disease is pain. A person will experience aggravating pain in the neck or back area. The intensity and duration of the pain vary from person to person. The pain can worsen with lifting, bending, twisting, or sitting. Surgery may be required if the pain does not respond to conservative treatments such as rest and ice.

2. A funny sensation in the limbs

Another common degenerative disc disease symptom is paresthesia, a numbness and tingling sensation in the upper or lower limbs. This feeling can radiate to other areas of the body, such as the back and buttocks. If tingling or numbness interferes with everyday activities, spinal fusion surgery can treat the bothersome sensations.

3. Lack of strength

Weakness is another symptom of degenerative disc disease. When the nerve is significantly impacted, this leads to muscle weakness. People with DDD may notice a lack of strength when working out or lifting heavy objects. Surgery can treat the affected nerve, restoring strength.

Conservative fixes for DDD

There is a wide range of treatment options for fixing degenerative disc disease. Home treatment can include hot or cold therapy and gentle exercises. Medical treatment involves over-the-counter (OTC) or prescribed medications, physical therapy (PT), and steroid injections.

When to consider spinal fusion

Surgery is usually the last option to resolve DDD symptoms. Spinal fusion is reserved if conservative treatment fails or the symptoms worsen after 6 months of treatment. The spinal fusion procedure combines 2 or more spinal vertebrae to prevent movement. Surgery is recommended for people with herniated discs, spinal deformities, or an unstable or weak spine. This process helps to fix the spine by reducing pain and improving stability and movement. The healthcare provider will decide if spinal fusion is necessary after performing a physical examination and tests.

Complications of disc disease

Having a degenerative disc disease comes with possible complications later in life. A common complication is a risk of developing osteoarthritis of the back. Other possible conditions include spinal stenosis, scoliosis, and spondylosis. Not every patient will have these complications.

Prevention is important

To avoid developing degenerated disc disease later in life, incorporate daily habits such as exercising to improve flexibility and strength. Maintain a healthy weight to avoid putting additional pressure on the spine. Quitting bad habits such as smoking can also help.

The overall outlook

Pain, paresthesia, and weakness are the most common symptoms of degenerative disc disease. Continuous management is needed regardless of the type of treatment performed for degenerative discs. Spinal fusion surgery is only considered after conservative treatments fail, but can result in significantly reduced pain for the patient.

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