Here’s a nice article that will answer some of your questions and provide you with a little more information on the symptoms associated with, the diagnosis of, and the treatment of degenerative disc disease.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease and What Can I Do About It?
As we age, the discs change by losing their ability to retain fluid causing the disc to narrow. There are many reasons for these changes including hereditary factors, daily wear and tear, muscle imbalances, major back injury and smoking. Any of these factors can affect how the spine works and accelerae the degenerative process.
Disc degeneration follows a predictable pattern. First, as previously stated, the disc begins to lose its ability to retain fluid resulting in dehydration. As a result, the disc’s ability to absorb shock is reduced resulting in tears in the outer rings of the disc. Over time, the disc will begin to collapse causing the bony vertebrae to become compressed.
Although this disc degeneration can appear to be quite severe, it does not always mean the disc is the source of pain. In fact, X-ray and MRI scans show that as high as 85% of people with severe disc degeneration don’t always feel pain.
Symptoms associated with degenerative disc disease are mainly mechanical in nature, meaning the pain comes from the parts of the spine that move during activity: the discs, ligaments, and facet joints. Typically, pain will be experienced in the central lower back and will be worsened with heavy activity or during prolonged sitting or standing. The symptoms usually last a few days and tend to recur every 3 to 18 months. Over time, the symptoms may extend into the buttocks and thighs.
The diagnosis of degenerative disc disease is made by correlating the findings of clinical examination and x-ray studies. The tell tale sign is a clearly defined narrowing of the space between the bony vertebrae and may involve more than one level. If symptoms are severe, other diagnostic procedures such as MRI or discogram may be considered.
Treatment options rarely include surgical intervention. Initial treatment usually focuses on symptom reduction so that the patient can resume normal activities as soon as possible. Physicians will usually prescribe medications that relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and calm associated muscle spasm.(Read full article here)
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