If you can bend and twist without pain, thank your spinal discs. If those simple movements cause you agony, blame your spinal discs.
That may be an oversimplification of complex back pain, but if you’re over age 40, degenerative disc disease is a likely culprit. And if you’re over 60, it’s a probable cause of your pain, since most people experience disc deterioration to some degree as they age.
So how do you know if your pain stems from degenerative disc disease or some other condition, and what can you do if you have it?
The only way to know for sure what’s causing your condition is to consult a specialist who can identify the root cause of your pain. If you live in or around Redwood City, California, your best bet is to visit Dr. Dana Robinson at Peninsula RSI Chiropractic Wellness Center.
She’s not only an experienced chiropractor, but she also specializes in nonsurgical, drug-free treatments that address a wide range of musculoskeletal issues, including degenerative disc disease. Here’s what you need to know.
Degenerative disc disease 101
Your spinal discs are rubbery cushions situated between each bony vertebra in your spinal column. The outer shell of the disc, called the annulus, is made up of fibrous layers that protect the gel-like center called the nucleus.
Every time you bend or twist, discs provide a soft cushion that prevents your bones from rubbing against one another, giving you flexibility. Sadly, just like other body parts that wrinkle and shrivel, your discs change as you age.
Two main changes are predictable in aging discs: loss of fluid and weakening structure. When the inner fluid of your discs decreases, you lose height and precious space between your vertebrae. And as the outer annulus weakens and becomes thinner and brittle, it’s susceptible to cracks that allow the nucleus to leak out and irritate nearby nerves. This is the picture of degenerative disc disease, which is actually not a disease but a natural progression in the life of a well-used spine.
What degenerative disc disease feels like
In many cases, degenerative disc disease causes no symptoms at all. In others, it causes excruciating pain that makes everyday activities impossible.
Where your symptoms fall on this spectrum depends on several variables, but the common signs of degenerative disc disease include:
- Pain that starts mild and gets progressively worse
- Pain that radiates to the limbs
- Tingling sensations
- Numbness in the legs, feet, arms, or hands
- Pain that worsens when you lift, bend, sit, or twist
- Muscle spasms
When you have symptomatic degenerative disc disease, the type of pain you feel depends on the location of the affected disc or discs. If it’s in your neck area, you may feel the symptoms in your arms and hands; if it’s in your lower back, you’re likely to feel them in your legs and feet. The reason for the traveling pain is that if your degenerative disc disease leads to a bulging or herniated disc, it can compress nerves that branch out from your spine and travel down your limbs.
Although age is the primary cause of degenerative disc disease, other factors can exacerbate the problem, including obesity, smoking, injury, and strenuous work or exercise.
What can be done about degenerative disc disease
When your discs deteriorate, your body tries to compensate for the resulting instability, which often ends up causing muscle pain and spasms. Dr. Robinson can develop a personalized exercise plan that targets, strengthens, and stabilizes the supporting muscles to decrease pain and increase mobility.
She also provides expert chiropractic care to adjust misalignments caused by degenerative disc disease, repositioning your vertebrae and decompressing nerves.
Massage therapy may also relieve your symptoms because it boosts your circulation, relaxes your spasming muscles, and reduces the inflammation that typically results from degenerative disc disease.
These are just a few of the noninvasive treatments Dr. Robinson offers to ease your degenerative disc disease symptoms. To learn if you have this condition and which treatment is right for you, schedule an appointment online or call us today. We’re here to get to the bottom of your back pain.