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Main Line (Austin Area)
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What You Didn’t Know About The Cause and Effects of Degenerative Disc Disorder

Degenerative Disc disorder (DDD) is not a disorder at all. It is a common side effect of aging and usually gets worse as we age. It happens when the fluid-filled cushions between the bones in your back or neck begin to break down and dry out. Essentially, the cushions wear away, and the bones end up rubbing together. 

Several things could happen as a result of DDD. You could have a less stable spine, which could impact your movement. You could also experience an increased risk of having a herniated disc or experience bone spurs. If you suspect you have DDD, it is important to go to your doctor immediately so they can come up with a treatment plan so that your movement doesn’t get worse or you experience lasting pain over time. 

What are the common causes of degenerative disc disorder?

In addition to age, you could experience DDD if you have experienced microtrauma or small minor injuries in the discs from daily wear and tear. These injuries, over time, can lead to small tears and/or cracks in the discs, which will likely be painful for you. 

Repetitive work, such as manual labor, can also quicken or worsen DDD for you. As well as poor health choices, such as obesity and smoking, can increase the risk of developing painful degenerative disc changes. 

Is pain always associated with degenerative disc disorder? 

DDD can have painful side effects, but not everyone who has it will experience pain necessarily.  For those experiencing pain, it’s common to feel a dull aching pain in the lower back. You may also experience weakness and numbness in the back and neck areas. 

 Sometimes you may experience more severe pain, and it could feel like the pain is also shooting to your lower and upper extremities. This happens if the discs herniate in contact with the nerves. As a result, you may feel shooting pain down your legs. 

You may also feel pain at certain times, for example, when you are sitting, bending, lifting, or twisting; whereas if you are simply walking, you may not feel anything at all. 

It’s also possible to feel pain in your surrounding muscles or joints, especially if, as a result of DDD, inflammation in the local area has developed. You may experience muscle spasms as a result, as well. 

What are the treatments for degenerative disc disorder? 

The treatment plan for DDD depends on the symptoms you are experiencing. Doctors like to start with a more conservative treatment plan, which means they would often start with less invasive, at-home remedies. 

You may want to start taking over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications. Heat, ice, stretching, and exercise can be helpful as well. Yoga is an excellent form of exercise that can help you strengthen your core to decrease the inflammation and some of the pressure added onto the degenerative discs. It is also a great way to improve your posture, which will ease the pressure off the discs. 

We recommend physical therapy and just some form of relaxation practices, such as meditation, hypnosis, and even visualizations. These practices help to alleviate pain and inflammation, more generally, in your body. 

Acupuncture may also be helpful as the treatment helps to release neurochemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin, where the needles have been placed to relieve you of pain and help in healing the local area. Massage therapy may also be an effective non-invasive treatment. Still, given that degenerative disc disorder could affect the surrounding muscles, joints, and local nerves, it’s important to find a massage therapist who is registered. 

Another at-home remedy to support DDD is by changing your diet. Try less inflammatory foods or foods with pain-relieving properties. For example, adding herbs such as ginger, turmeric, and cat’s claw can help you reduce pain and inflammation. If your sleep has been interrupted by the pain caused by DDD, try lavender, valerian root, or even chamomile before you go to bed to ease sleeplessness and insomnia. St. John’s Wort can also support pain relief, but you must be careful how it interacts with any other medications you are taking. It is best to avoid processed foods high in sugar and sodium because these foods usually cause inflammation in the body.  

More advanced therapies include steroid injections and radiofrequency ablation, which is a procedure used to burn the sensory nerves that send pain signals to your brain. Your doctor may also recommend spinal cord stimulation or other types of nerve ablations. Yet, whether they will order that as a solution depends entirely on your symptoms and the presentation of the “disorder.” 

What should you do if you think you have degenerative disc disorder?

Talk to your doctor immediately if you are experiencing pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in your lower and upper extremities, back, and/or neck. They will go through a series of questions to understand which part of your spine hurts, your medical history, family’s history, and see if there are any other symptoms you may be experiencing, such as pain in other areas of the body.

Then, they will use an X-Ray, CT, or MRI imaging to determine if there is any bone or nerve damage in the area. You may also have to go through a series of tests to see how you are moving and whether any movements you are making are resulting in your pain.