Degenerative disc disease (DDD) isn’t really an illness; it is a condition caused by the wear and tear of daily living. But it is affecting people in epidemic proportions, and the accompanying back pain associated with DDD is the leading cause of disability in people under 45 years of age in the United States.
Many spinal problems are caused by degeneration of the intervertebral disc. Specifically, DDD is the breakdown of the spongy cartilage discs that separate and cushion your vertebrae. There is a disc between each of the vertebra in your spine. Nearly every physical move you make is supported by those discs, which are designed to absorb pressure — think of them as the body’s shock absorbers.
Over time, minor injuries add up and eventually one or more discs can start to degenerate. While this condition is usually caused by the normal aging process and some individuals will experience these changes pain-free, up to 85 percent of people will exhibit some degree of disc degeneration by the time they are 50 years old.
Symptoms of DDD
The most common initial symptom of disc degeneration is back pain that moves to the buttocks and upper thighs. As the discs become more compromised, the damage eventually starts to affect all parts of the spine.
Treatments of DDD
There are various treatment options, but starting with noninvasive chiropractic care has become widely accepted. Your practitioner will work to improve joint mechanics by improving spinal motion and reducing inflammation. If the disc degeneration is relatively mild, it may be possible to improve the function of the intervertebral discs.
Treatments include one of several types of spinal adjustments, including flexion-distraction technique, typically used to treat herniated discs and spinal stenosis, and instrument-assisted manipulation that uses a handheld instrument. Your chiropractor might also employ manual techniques such as trigger point therapy that puts direct pressure on painful points, manual joint stretching and resistance, and therapeutic massage.
Reducing the inflammation caused by DDD is also important. Some patients find relief through interferential electrical stimulation, where a low-level electrical current is used to stimulate muscles. Ultrasound has also proven effective in reducing muscle spasms, stiffness, and pain. The ultrasound produces a mild heat that can improve circulation.
Spinal decompression therapy has also proven to be effective for many patients. It is a non-invasive procedure where the spine is slowly and carefully stretched to relieve the pressure on the discs and vertebrae. While it may not completely eliminate back pain, it can reduce it considerably. Decompression is usually performed on a machine that uses computer-controlled motors to gently pull on the body. However, this treatment is not recommended for patients with complete disc ruptures.
Chiropractic care is a popular method for treating DDD because it reduces pain and discomfort while improving motion by enhancing blood flow, reducing inflammation, easing muscle tension, and increasing range of motion without the use of drugs or surgery.
In the future, stem cell therapy may be able to restore the disk or at least prevent further degeneration.
While DDD may not be preventable, you might be able to slow its progression. First, develop your core muscles and try to maintain good posture. Stay hydrated; spinal discs are mostly water, so they work best when the body is well hydrated. Exercise and keep active in general. And finally, get regular adjustments, as chiropractic treatments can possibly reverse some of the damage if it is not too far gone.