What Is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) and How Is It Treated?
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease, or DDD, is caused by degeneration of the discs in the spinal column. Age can cause this, but most of the time, it is caused by some sort of trauma to the spine. People with a bulging or herniated disc almost always have this disease, as well as people with scoliosis.
Symptoms range from person to person, and they can also be affected by the particular location of the spinal injury. People with lower back injuries can experience numbness and tingling in the legs and buttocks. Those with neck or shoulder disc injuries may experience numbness or tingling in their arms. The symptoms can also become as severe as temporary paralysis in one or both legs or arms. Someone with upper back pain can experience headaches and even severe migraines. Muscle spasms, memory loss, and weakness in the limbs are also possible symptoms.
In some cases, DDD has been noted by physicians as a hereditary disease. However, not all doctors agree with this and there have been no conclusive studies conducted to provide this theory with any validity.
Degenerative disc disease is most commonly seen in the elderly. Rarely is it seen in young adults or children. However, athletes or people who have experienced some sort of spinal trauma have been shown to develop the disease, regardless of their age.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is pain that extends at least six months after the initial injury. The pain can be intermittent or constant. Only a doctor can truly diagnose chronic pain. If you believe you suffer from this type of pain, consult with your doctor immediately. People with DDD suffer from chronic pain, either constantly or intermittently.
Treatments and Procedures
Treatment for DDD can be somewhat complicated. Most doctors will start you on physical therapy and pain medications and/or muscle relaxers to see if some of the pain is alleviated. Others might try steroid injections at the points of the affected discs to directly alleviate the pain.
If these methods do not work, your doctor might recommend surgery. They can perform a spinal fusion, place rods into your spinal column, and a few other alternative surgery methods, such as laser surgery. Surgery is entirely up to you, and you should not feel pressured by your doctor to have surgery unless your degenerative disc disease has become life-altering.
Alternative Therapies for Degenerative Disc Disease
Acupuncture, herbs, pool therapy, and massages are alternative options that may help treat the pain. Look into these options and see if they're right for you. You should also check with you insurance and see if they cover any of these options. Some insurances will pay for them if your doctor states that he or she believes you could truly benefit from such methods.
Review every option available to you with your doctor. Talk to your family about these options and see what best fits your lifestyle. Also, making simple lifestyle changes, such as exercises for back pain relief, can make a world of difference in your pain and how you handle it.
There are many ways to get emotional support for DDD and chronic back pain. Ask your doctor if any local hospitals sponsor support groups related to your disease. There are also several online support groups. Keep family and friends informed about your health so that you can gain their support and help through the pain.
Lastly, never be afraid or too prideful to ask for help when you need it. This disease can cause you to have good days and bad days. It's okay to admit when you're having a bad day and seek out the help that you need during that time.
My Own Battle with Degenerative Disc Disease
My own battle with DDD began when I was 15. I had a serious horseback riding accident that left me with one herniated disc, two bulging discs, and a partially severed sciatic nerve. It took over a year for the doctors to actually figure out what was wrong with my back. Since I was only a teenager, most doctors assumed I was making up the pain, or exaggerating.
At 16, I began extensive physical therapy, from which I only received minor relief. By 18, I was on several prescription pain medications and undergoing physical therapy; all while going to college full time and working full time. I was absolutely miserable! The pain medications didn't help at all, the physical therapy seemed to cause more pain than it actually was relieving, and the stress of college life was just adding to the pain. My junior year of college was spent almost entirely in and out of the hospital. My back pain had spiraled out of control, and I was beginning to experience early paralysis from the waist down.
At 20, I decided I needed to change my lifestyle. I began working from home instead of physically going to a job. I had already completed my associate's degree at this time, so I decided to take a break from school to get my health in order. This was probably the hardest decision for me because I had been studying pre-pharmacy and was really eager to begin medical school. However, I knew that if I didn't take action to get healthier, I would have bigger issues to deal with.
I began practicing yoga on a regular basis. I also stopped taking all the pain medications I was on except for an occasional Tylenol or Naproxen (Note: Consult your doctor before doing any of these things). Eliminating the stress in my life was something I absolutely had to do. I noticed that whenever I was stressed, my back pain seemed to be far worse. The yoga helped tremendously with this, as did moderate exercise that focused on developing core strength.
After about two years of focusing on improving my health, I became pregnant, even after doctors told me countless times I would never be able to become pregnant due to my back. I gave birth to healthy little boy. I had wanted to start a family, but assumed I would have to adopt due to the complications with my back. Since then, I have had three more children, all of which were born at home, despite my back issues. Not everyone with DDD has this kind of good fortune, so I know that I am truly blessed to have been able to manage pregnancies and birth the way that I have with this disease.
I still practice moderate exercise and yoga. I no longer take any pain medications, but have also incorporated healthy eating and other lifestyle changes to help facilitate continued healing.
DDD can be managed. There are many options, even surgery, that can help you not only survive, but thrive, through the pain. Consult with your doctor and try different methods to help. You don't have to live with this on your own. There are many ways of dealing with and finding healing through chronic back pain.
Do you or someone you know have DDD?
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Danielle Lopez