Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerating discs are a common cause of back, neck, and thoracic problems. The spinal discs are soft, gelatinous cushions that separate the vertebrae. The discs function as between-the-bones shock absorbers, allowing the spine to bend and twist. The discs are actually made up of water, cells, collagen and other chemicals. As we age the disc actually loses water,normal collagen, and cells. This deterioration can result in serious back, neck, or thoracic pain. As discs are damaged or wear away, the amount of space between the vertebrae gets smaller. As the space narrows, joints are placed under greater stress, resulting in further degeneration.
Although discs degenerate to a degree from normal aging, there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of symptomatic disc degeneration. They include the following:
- Repeated heavy lifting
- Bone spurs
An acute injury to the back also increases the potential for disc degeneration.
Compression of the spinal nerves can cause symptoms that include pain, tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, loss of balance/ coordination, and stiffness. Back, neck, thoracic pain and/or extremity pain is often worse when sitting, lifting, bending, twisting, standing and walking.
In order to diagnose a degenerated disc, a physician takes a medical history, and performs a comprehensive physical examination that includes checking for numbness or weakness. Several imaging examinations may also be administered including X-rays, MRI scans, and CT scans, to evaluate for spinal nerve compression, spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal, and to visualize bone spurs.
Although a disc can degenerate anywhere along the 26 vertebrae of the spine, it happens most frequently in the lumbar region (lower back) or the cervical region (neck). In addition to pain, degenerated discs can result in complications that include the following:
- Herniation or rupture of a disc
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Bone spurs
Any of these complications can worsen the patient's condition.
In many cases, nonsurgical options provide a patient with relief from a degenerated disc. Bed rest and anti-inflammatory medications can help decrease swelling and pain. Physical therapy may be recommended to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the abdomen, back and the neck. Epidural injection of corticosteroids can help to reduce inflammation, swelling, and greatly relieve pain in the affected area. Dr. Campbell is trained in both trasforaminal and interlaminar epidurals in the cervical, lumbar and thoracic regions. The injections are typically done 1-2 weeks apart for 2-4 sessions. About 85% of patients will have significant pain relief
For more information about Common Conditions, or to schedule an appointment, please call 484.468.1480.