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Degenerative Disc Disease (Spondylosis)

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD), also known as Spondylosis, is a condition that usually occurs due to aging. As the term implies, it is the progressive deterioration of the discs between the vertebral bodies. Spondylosis (a different term than spondylolisthesis) is typically a degenerative condition of the joints of the spine and is also known as spinal osteoarthritis. The discs, joints and ligaments of the spine are generally involved. The discs lose their cushioning effect between the spinal bones, the ligaments become weaker or thicken, and the bones can develop bony growths or spurs. Aging and repetitive stresses to the spine are the primary causes of this degeneration, but it also can be present in younger adults who have had prior trauma. Not everyone will have symptoms (usually pain) as a result of spondylosis. If severe, spondylosis may cause pressure on nerve roots with subsequent pain or tingling in the arms or legs.

Conditions

Symptoms

Not everyone will have symptoms (usually pain) as a result of spondylosis. If severe, spondylosis may cause pressure on nerve roots with subsequent pain or tingling in the arms or legs.  The most common clinical manifestation of a degenerative disc disease is lower back pain that may or may not radiate to the upper part of the thighs. Some individuals who experience pain from Spondylosis describe morning pain as lower back stiffness or rigidity.

In some individuals, the vertebra loses flexibility. Others experience bone spurs or disc bulging that can compress a nerve root, which can cause chronic pain, numbness, and weakness in certain body parts. This condition, however, can occur anywhere along the spinal column, with most cases occurring at the cervical region (degenerative disc disease of the neck) and at the lumbar area (lower back).

Description of Spondylosis (DDD)

Spondylosis is typically a degenerative condition of spinal joints and is also known as spinal osteoarthritis. Discs, joints and ligaments are usually involved. Discs lose their cushioning effect, ligaments become weaker or thicken, and vertebrae can develop bony growths or spurs.

How Does Spondylosis Occur?

With aging, the shock-absorbing cushions termed as intervertebral discs, loses fluid resulting to a decreased flexibility of the spine, bulging, thinning, and lesser cushioning ability of the discs. Aside from the normal wear and tear as individual ages, degenerative disc disease can also occur due to injury as a result of an external trauma or repetitive stress on the vertebra. Other common factors that can contribute to advancement of disc degeneration include obesity, smoking, and genetic factors.

Screening and Diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease (Spondylosis)

Your doctor will first perform a physical exam to observe your posture, range of motion and physical condition, noting any movement that causes you pain. A neurological exam may also be performed to test your reflexes and muscle strength. This evaluation also checks out other symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, or bowel and/or bladder problems. As your doctor develops the diagnosis, imaging tests may be performed. These may include X-rays, CT or MRI. An MRI is especially good at showing abnormal discs, ligaments or nerve roots. CT scans can show inflammation of the facet joints, which could indicate spondylosis. With an X-ray, your doctor will be able to see the bony elements of your spine.

Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease (Spondylosis)

Non-surgical treatments for spondylosis include epidural injections, chiropractic care, pain management medications and physical therapy. If the pain continues or there is evidence of a severely compressed nerve, surgery may be considered. Surgery for spondylosis involves two main components: eliminating what is causing pain and then fusing the spine to control movement. Surgery may also include decompression, which means removing the tissue that is pressing on nerves. Spondylosis and disc degeneration causing functionally disabling pain that fails to improve with conservative treatment may be treated with fusion or disc replacement surgery.  Every case is different  It is therefore very important to discuss treatment options with a spine specialist familiar with all types of spinal surgery  in deciding which treatment, if any, may be best for you.

How can Degenerative Disc Disease be managed at home?

Exercise

Like unused rubber that gets brittle as it ages, bones and joints get fragile with immobility. Regular exercise is the key to prevent further damage and complication. However, exercise should be done with caution and to an extent that is comfortable and pain-free.

#1 EXERCISE FOR NECK PAIN
  • Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor
  • Keep your neck straight
  • Bring the back of your head up
  • Feel the stretch of your neck
  • Repeat a few times
#2 EXERCISE FOR NECK PAIN
  • Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor
  • Relax both of your shoulders and arms
  • Move your left ear towards your left shoulder as far as you can tolerate without lifting your shoulder
  • Return to starting position
  • Perform the same exercise on the right side
  • Repeat for few times as tolerated
#3 EXERCISE FOR NECK PAIN
  • Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor
  • Relax both of your shoulders and arms
  • Keep your neck straight and look straight ahead
  • Gently turn your head to the right as far as comfortable (maintain your gaze straight and parallel to the floor)
  • Return to starting position
  • Perform the same exercise on the right side
  • Repeat for few times as tolerated
#4 EXERCISE FOR NECK PAIN
  • Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor
  • Relax both of your shoulders and arms
  • Gently move your head down with your chin towards the chest as far as comfortable
  • Keep your back and neck aligned
  • Return to starting position
  • Repeat step 3 for few times as tolerated

Epsom Salts

The Magnesium content present in Epsom salt works wonders in healing.  It aids in balancing the pH levels in the body. When pH levels are balanced, the stiffness can be minimized. It also helps in lessening the pain of DDD in your neck and shoulders.

To prepare for an Epsom salt treatment, take a couple of tablespoonful of Epsom salt and add water to make a paste. Apply it to your neck and shoulders. Keep it on for approximately 15 minutes, and then wash it off. However, if you have diabetes, cardiac or kidney problems, consult your doctor first prior to using this home management.

Hot and Cold Compress

Another way to lessen the pain of spondylosis or DDD of the neck is to use alternative hot and cold compresses on the affected area. the hot compress improves blood circulation and relaxes the stiff muscles. Cold compress, on the other hand, aids in reducing tissue swelling or inflammation. It is important to take note, however, that hot compresses shouldn’t be used for areas that are easily irritated or if you suffer from diabetes and other circulatory problems.

FAQ

Why did I get this?

In most cases it is just the normal aging process.  It can certainly be affected by genetics and if your mother and father have problems with their back it is not unusual that you too will have problems with your back.

Is Degenerative Disc Disease a disease?

No, it really isn’t a disease in the typical sense, meaning that there is not a pill you can take to stop it, and it is not life-threatening.  It is more of a wear and tear process.

Will I have to live with it the rest of my life?

No, most patients usually will respond to an active exercise program, strengthening their core or trunk muscles, learning proper body posture and body mechanics, losing weight if they are overweight and the use of anti-inflammatories in the vast majority of cases.

How common is DDD?

We know that 90% of individuals will experience 1 episode of low back pain and about a third of this 90% will have chronic intermittent back pain.  If one exercises and takes care of their spine, the pain-free intervals can actually be quite long and recovery from these episodes will be relatively shortened.  That’s why it is very important to practice good body posture and body mechanics and to do your exercises.  

I have young children. Will they get Degenerative Disc Disease?

Unfortunately, we know that genetics does play a role in the conditions that our family gets.  While there has been research to determine what genes may be associated with Degenerative Disease, it is not clear-cut at the present time.  The most important thing is for all patients to be physically fit, of normal weight, and to practice good body posture and body mechanics.  

Spondylosis