Lower Back Pain From Degenerative Disc Disease

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A fairly common source of lower back pain in middle-aged people is degenerative disc disease. While it isn’t actually a disease, disc degeneration is a condition that affects everyone with age, but some people experience more pain due to the degeneration than others.

The most common pain experienced from degenerative disc disease is felt in the lower back. Pain can also be felt from anywhere in the neck down through the thighs. If you are experiencing prolonged periods of unexplained lower back pain, you may be suffering from degenerative disc disease, and should visit your doctor for a diagnosis.

Naturally-Occurring Degenerative Disc Disease

Intervertebral discs separate the bones called vertebrae that make up our spinal column. As we age, the discs diminish in their ability to retain water and absorb nutrients from the vertebral endplates above and below them. This causes the once
fluid-filled and flexible discs to become fibrous, rigid, andmore likely to move out of place in the spinal column. The discs also are less able to endure the pressure from the vertebrae, which are constantly pressing down upon the discs. The flattening of the discs is what is referred to as degenerative disc disease. The pain from degenerative disc disease stems from a few sources, including spinal nerves that are irritated by the degenerating discs. Pain also can be caused by instability and abnormalities within the spinal column that can make everyday motions feel uncomfortable and stiff.

Degenerative Disc Disease from a Traumatic Injury

In addition to natural degeneration, the other way degenerative disc disease can come about is by way of a traumatic injury. These injuries are usually related to sports and other tasks during which the body is bending and twisting, such as a golf swing, a tennis stroke, lifting packages, or any throwing motion. The constant wear-and-tear from these movements can eventually cause an intervertebral disc to be torn.

When an intervertebral disc is torn, the tear occurs in the annulus fibrosus, or outer wall, of the disc. The wall may heal itself, but it forms a fragile scar tissue during the healing process, leaving it more vulnerable to a future tear – and also leaving the disc more vulnerable to other degenerative conditions like degenerative disc disease.

Also, while the outer wall is torn, fluid from the nucleus pulposus (the inner core of the disc) leaks out. When the fluid is leaked, the disc becomes flattened by the vertebrae pushing down on it. Pain may result from the fact that the compressed allows the vertebra above and below the disc to move closer together. Pain may also result from the disc’s inner fluid out and irritating nerves on the surface of the disc. If disc fluid escapes into the spinal column and touches a nerve or the spinal cord, this also can cause symptoms of pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling.

What to Do About the Back Pain

Don’t jump to conclusions about your back pain and think that you need immediate surgery. Talk to your doctor to find out if you are actually experiencing degenerative disc disease. Many people experience some back or neck pain from degenerative disc disease, but the pain often subsides and permanently goes away on its own after a while.

In some cases, the pain will hang around for more than a few months. If the pain lasts more than a week or two, conservative, nonsurgical treatment is usually recommended. Conservative treatments like medication, physical therapy, and hot/cold compresses will help the majority of those with degenerative disc disease, but sometimes it is not enough to cure the back pain. If this is the case, you may want to look into spine surgery as an option. Though it is reserved as a last resort option for only about five to ten percent of people with degenerative disc disease, surgery is a viable alternative with
strong results for some individuals.

If you suffered a traumatic injury and are now experiencing back pain, see your doctor. Chances are you had to see a doctor when you first suffered the injury, and may already know if you tore an intervertebral disc when injured. Your doctor can help you determine if your torn disc is still causing you pain, or if your back pain stems from something else, like degenerative disc disease.

About the Author:

Patrick Foote is the Director of eBusiness at Laser Spine Institute. Laser Spine Institute specializes in safe and effective outpatient procedures for degenerative disc disease and other spinal conditions. http://www.laserspineinstitute.com/back_problems/degenerative_disc_disease/

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