The spine is composed of vertebrae separated by discs. These discs work to help provide cushioning and allow movement. The discs are composed of a gelatinous centre called the nucleus pulposus and a thick fibrous ring called the fibrous annulus. When we age, these discs lose their hydration, causing the discs to thin out. Degenerative disc disease is the result of these thin discs.
In general, the symptoms of degenerative disc disease occur gradually over time. A prior history of spinal problems is common. Due to the generative nature of this condition, people suffering from degenerative disc disease are generally older than 50 years.
Back pain associated with degenerative disc disease can have a variety of signs and symptoms. Generally, activities that are in a position to support weight can aggravate the symptoms. Therefore, standing and walking are more aggravating than sitting. Transition movements, such as moving from sitting to standing, are also aggravating. Often, the symptoms in the morning increase but improve with movement and activity.
The symptoms of degenerative disc disease most often radiate through both the right and left parts of the lower back, but less frequently they create symptoms of sciatica or the symptoms radiating to the legs. The movement of the lower back in an extended or arched position can be limited and painful. When experiencing symptoms related to degenerative disc disease, complaints of stiffness are as frequent as complaints of pain.
X-rays are the most common diagnostic tool used to determine the presence of degenerative disc disease. An x-ray will show the space between the vertebrae and indicate if a narrowing has occurred.
As with many degenerative problems, the use of anti-inflammatory medications is a treatment option. Another useful means to reduce inflammation is the use of ice therapy. To help reduce inflammation of the lower back, put ice in the lower back, 10 to 15 minutes, three times a day.
When oral anti-inflammatories are not effective in reducing back pain, epidurals may be recommended. The best practice for performing epidural anaesthesia is to perform them with fluoroscopy, which is simply the use of X-rays during the injection in order to help the doctor to visualize exactly where the injection should be placed.
In cases of disc degeneration, it is recommended not to operate except in exceptional circumstances. In fact, the studies carried out show that the surgery (consisting of fixing the vertebrae, or vertebral arthrodesis) does not obtain better results than exercise with a cognitive-behavioral approach, which in practice amounts to intense exercise.