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Degenerative Disc Disease

As you get older, the structure of your spine changes gradually, especially around the intervertebral discs. These changes can result in degenerative disc disease, when pain in the back occurs because of vertebral discs that have been damaged or have started to prematurely deteriorate. When degenerative disc disease first occurs, the patient might not experience many symptoms. As the problems progress though, the patient will generally suffer severe back pain that requires the intervention of a spine doctor and can even spread into the leg. There are a number of activities that can make the pain of degenerative disc disease worse, including:

  • Sitting
  • Bending forward
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Standing
  • Walking

This is because of the pressure these activities place on the discs. Patients suffering from degenerative disc disease may require the intervention of a spine doctor to stop or reverse the deterioration as well as pain management techniques to help them cope with symptoms.

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Degenerative Disc Disease

What Causes Degenerative Back Pain?

The discs in your spinal column have their own nerve supply. Discs are made up of two different parts:

  • Annulus fibrosus. This is the outer structure of the disc.
  • Nucleus pulposus. This is the interior of the disc that has a gel-like texture.

The inside of your disc doesn’t have any nerves, but the outer part of the annulus fibrosis does. When the disc is damaged or starts to deteriorate, it can expose those nerves, which can become irritated thanks to the inner jelly-like core leaking out. This can result in extremely painful symptoms for the patient.

So what can cause the damage or deterioration of the discs, leading to degenerative disc disease? There are a number of potential causes:

  • An injury that results in a herniated disc. Slips and falls are the most common causes.
  • Loss of fluid inside of your vertebral discs. This gives less shock absorption to your spine and makes it less flexible.
  • Deterioration of the outer part of your discs, leading to the inner material leaking out or even for the disc to rupture.

Patients who smoke, do heavy physical labor, or who are obese are more prone to experience degenerative disc disease.

What are the Symptoms of Degenerative Back Pain?

There are a number of symptoms that a doctor will look for when diagnosing degenerative disc disease, including:

  • Pain in the lower back, often traveling into the legs.
  • Spasms in your lower back.
  • Numbness or tightness in the lower back.
  • Numbness in the arms or legs.
  • Weakness in the legs.
  • Tingling in the legs.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are looking for back pain relief, it’s time to learn more about what our spine doctors can do for you.

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How is Degenerative Back Pain Diagnosed?

When it comes to finding the best back pain relief, it’s important to get a thorough diagnosis of your condition. In order to do this, your doctor may rely on an MRI. This tool gives your doctor a clear picture of any abnormalities or changes that are happening to the discs in your spine. On an MRI, a doctor can easily identify disc tears that could indicate you are suffering from degenerative disc disease.

X-RAY image of a discography
MRI image of high white intensity zone representing a disc tear

An MRI is not the only tool available for diagnosis. Additionally, your spine doctor may want a provocative discogram or discography. This involves injecting the damaged or painful discs with a high-contrast dye that makes them more visible under fluoroscopy. The doctor will then be able to see the shape, size, and any damage that has been done to your disc that may be causing your pain.

What do we do?

Providing a thorough diagnosis to know the cause of your pain

Using the least invasive procedure that will relieve your pain quickly

Providing effective follow-up to ensure fast recovery

Ensuring that you remain fit so that you can enjoy long-term relief from pain

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What Are the Treatment Options for Degenerative Back Pain?

There are a number of treatments available for degenerative back pain and degenerative disc disease. These range from conservative therapies to invasive surgical procedures. Your doctor will help you determine which is the best course of action to treat your symptoms and help you find relief for your chronic back pain. Their goal is to locate the source of your pain, relieve it, and prevent it from coming back. Your doctor will try other treatment options before recommending surgery.

Non-Operative Treatment

  • Pain medications. This can include anti-inflammatory medications or even narcotic painkillers.
  • Alternating heat and cold compress on the affected area.
  • Physical exercise including stretching, massaging and strengthening the affected area.
  • Epidural steroid injections to relieve inflammation and diagnose the affected area.

Least Invasive Procedures

If non-surgical treatments are not providing adequate relief and you are still experiencing pain from degenerative disc disease after six months, surgery may be recommended. An endoscopic discectomy with Annuloplasty or Regenerative Treatment to the discs, such as PRP or stem cells, is the least invasive surgical procedure for degenerative disc disease and allows the patient to return to their normal activities much sooner than other treatments. During this procedure, a tiny incision is made near the site of the damaged disc. A camera is inserted so the spinal surgeon can pinpoint the damaged area. The damage is then cleaned and then heated to close the tear in the damaged disc.

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Recovery After Degenerative Back Pain Treatments

When utilizing non-operative treatment options for degenerative disc disease and degenerative back pain, many people make positive improvements in a few weeks. As they combine treatment with lifestyle changes, they can manage pain and reduce their number of flare-ups. Some even see their symptoms eliminated. However, if the pain continues, a least invasive procedure from the expert team at Spine Institute of North America may be necessary.

How Long Is Recovery After an Endoscopic Discectomy?

The endoscopic discectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that lasts about an hour and sees most patients going home about an hour after surgery. The incision site is so small that it requires no stitches and is covered with a band-aid. Some patients experience minimal discomfort after the procedure, such as:

  • Pain localized to the incision site
  • Some soreness or muscle aches
  • Infrequent nerve pain during recovery

Once patients return home, they may need to take pain medication for these symptoms for a short time. However, the long-term prognosis is excellent, with the success rate reaching over 90 percent.

As you recover, take things slowly and listen to your body. Within a few days, the pain should subside. Your doctor will probably recommend physical therapy to increase strength and flexibility in the affected area. Although some patients can return to work in one to two weeks, everyone is different. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you resume your normal, daily activities or try to perform physical labor. They’ll want to ensure you are fully healed.

If you require treatment for degenerative disc disease, you can turn to the trusted doctors at Spine Institute of North America. This New Jersey-based practice has locations in East Brunswick, Marlton and East Windsor.

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