Degenerative disc disease is a term used to explain severe pain in lower back. The term is somewhat misleading in that the condition really isn’t a “disease”, but, rather, a description of the age related changes that normally occur.
Although the spinal disc (along with conditions such as lumbar pinched nerve, spinal stenosis lumbar, or spondylolisthesis) can be a potential source of pain, medical science has yet to identify a definitive cause of back pain.
The spinal discs essentially function as shock absorbers and give the spine the necessary mobility to accomplish day-to-day activities. With the aging process, the discs undergo certain changes including those related to hereditary factors, daily wear and tear, muscle imbalances, major back injury and smoking. With any of these factors, the disc loses its ability to attract and retain fluid, which ultimately affects how the spine works.
Disc degeneration follows a certain process pattern beginning with a loss in its ability to attract and retain fluid. Next, the disc loses its ability to absorb shock and will begin to break down. As time goes on, the disc will begin to collapse creating increased compression between the joints and accelerating the degenerative process.
Although disc degeneration can be quite severe when viewed on X-ray or MRI, it does not always mean the disc is the source of pain. Scientific research indicates that as high as 85% of people with severe disc degeneration have no symptoms whatsoever.
Fortunately, treatment options for degenerative disc disease rarely include surgery. Early treatment intervention usually addresses symptom management so that the patient can remain active. Medications that assist with relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and calming muscle spasm are also typically prescribed. To assist patients in staying active, a back brace can be very helpful.
In addition to medication and bracing options, physical therapy is often prescribed. The goals of physical therapy include symptom reduction, restoration of function, and instruction in preventive activities.
If symptoms persist, resulting in severe pain in lower back, more aggressive treatment may be considered. These treatment options include epidural steroid injections and, in really severe cases, surgery.
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