Anatomy of the Disc
Spinal discs are the cushions between the bones of the spine, or vertebrae. They make the back flexible and protect the bones to absorb the impact of your body’s movements, much like a shock absorber.
There are two main parts of the disc, resembling a filled donut. The outer layer is the annulus, which contains the nerves. Damage to this outer layer can cause a lot of pain. The inside of the disc is a jelly-like substance called the nucleus. The proteins contained can irritate the tissues they touch and cause inflammation. If the proteins reach the annulus, they can cause much pain. (This is a herniation.) Spinal discs are unable to repair themselves, causing degeneration.
Discs are made of over 80% water. Over time, the discs dry out and shrink. This happens to everyone; however, it may lead to painful conditions such as arthritis, or herniation. Sometimes bone spurs grow and rub on the discs, or the spinal canal becomes too narrow, leading to spinal stenosis. Wear and tear over time, sports and injuries to the spine may also cause painful spinal degeneration.
When the pain of the degenerated discs cause pain that cannot be traced to another condition, it is called Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD).
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Common symptoms include:
*Pain in the low back, posterior and thighs
*Pain radiating into the arms and hands
*Pain that is nagging, severe or disabling
*Numbness or tingling in the extremities
*Pain that is worse while sitting
*Lessened pain while walking or moving
*Pain that is worse wile bending or lifting
*Pain that lessens while changing positions or laying down
*Pain lasting from a few days to several months
*Weakness in the leg or foot muscles
DDD is diagnosed through physical examination and taking a personal medical history. The physician will test range of motion and muscle strength, as well as reflexes and sensation in the limbs. An MRI can show the disc damage. Physicians will rule out other causes of spinal injury such as arthritis.
Treatment of DDD is stepped up through physical activity, physical therapy exercise, and heat and cold therapy to medications (NSAIDs and pain relievers) and surgery. Other treatments may focus on managing other issues associated with the pain, such as sleeplessness and depression.
Other treatment may include acupuncture, behavioral medicine, braces, chiropractic, electrotherapy, muscle relaxants, nerve blocks and stress management.