Why is it that the more we age, the more we become prone to diseases? Is there no way to protect ourselves? These and many more questions of a similar nature plague senior citizens. One of the diseases that often comes with aging is degenerative disc disease (DDD) sometimes called gray hairs of the spine. DDD is not a disease, but is wear and tear of the vertebral discs. Degenerative disc disease is not synonymous with spinal arthritis or spondylosis, though these conditions are often present in individuals who have degenerative disc disease.
As we age, the discs in our vertebrae degenerate (break down) due to normal wear and tear and overuse during our lifetime. If we happen to be overweight for a good share of our lives, the extra weight adds more stress on the spine; and sooner or later we develop serious back problems. Our lifestyle has a lot to do with the health of our spinal discs. For instance, people who smoke are more likely to have degenerative disc disease than people who don’t smoke.
Degenerative Disc Disease isn’t just an old age disease; the effects of DDD can be felt in individuals in their twenties and thirties. Some individuals never know they have DDD because they have no pain. When the wear and tear on the discs causes the discs to lose their fluid, this can cause the vertebral discs to move slightly. DDD often leads to another spinal condition called spinal spondylosis or spinal arthritis.
Oftentimes, it isn’t age that causes us to develop degenerative arthritis; trauma from falls and injuries could be the catalyst to start you on the path to degenerative disc disease. Stress within the spine could cause tiny tears in the discs which could allow the fluid inside the discs to leak out. If this happens, you may feel intense pain from nerve compression. Degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere in the spine, but it most often occurs in the lower lumbar region (low back) of the spine and in the cervical spine (neck). DDD is seen far less commonly in the thoracic region of the spine.
Degenerative disc disease can be detected through visualization through X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An X-ray won’t show the discs, but the image will show the position the vertebrae are in, and if they are compressed, the radiologist will recognize the condition.
In DDD, degeneration from spontaneous or post-traumatic tears, fibrosis and collapse of the vertebral disc can lead to mechanical function failure resulting in low back pain. An individual suffering from degenerative disc disease often suffers leg pain when there is nerve compression involved.
Ways to protect your back when you suffer from degenerative joint disease
Never bend from your back to pick something up from the floor. It is very easy to injure or reinjure your back if you try to pick up something from the floor or do an exercise that requires you to bend from your back.
If you work in an office, make sure that the chair in which you sit is cushioned well and supports your back completely. Take rests when you need to; get up and walk to the water cooler or rest room. A minute or two away from your desk can be enough time to rest your back.
The furniture in your home should support your back. If your furniture causes your back to hurt, it may be time to look a new couch or chair. Maybe some strategically placed pillows will give enough support to your living room furniture to prevent back pain.
Just as sitting too long can cause back pain, so can standing too long. Try not to stand too long in one position. If your job requires you to stand, you may need to shift your weight from time to time. Sometimes, changing shoes can help shift your weight just enough to relieve back pain. People who must stand for most of their work day should wear back braces. Many jobs supply back braces for their employees.
You can help prevent back pain by doing some light exercise every day. If back pain persists, you could have swelling and inflammation of the nerve roots between the vertebral discs. Your doctor may inject a steroid medication into the area to relieve the inflammation. You may also be advised to take an oral anti-inflammatory medication which is either prescribed or bought over-the-counter.