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 cause 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. The symptoms can also become as severe as temporary paralysis in one or both legs. Someone with upper back pain can experience headaches, numbness, and tingling of the neck and arms (or arm). Muscle spasms, memory loss, and weakness in the limbs are also possible symptoms.
In some cases, DDD has been seen as a hereditary disease. However, not all doctors agree about this, and there have been no conclusive studies done to prove one way or the other.
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.
Treatments and Procedures
Treatment for DDD can be somewhat complicated. Most doctors will start you on physical therapy and pain medications to see if some of the pain is alleviated. Others might try steroid injections at the points on 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. Surgery is entirely up to you, and you should not feel pressured by your doctor to have surgery unless your ailment has become life-threatening.
Alternative therapies: 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 really 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 can make a world of difference in your pain and how you handle it.
There are MANY ways to get support for DDD and back pain. Ask your doctor if any local hospitals sponsor support groups related to your ailment. There are also several online support groups. Keep family and friends informed on your health so that you can gain their support and help through the pain.
My Own Battle
My own battle with DDD began when I was 15. I had a serious horseback riding injury 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, which I only received minor relief. By 18 I was on a plethora of pain meds and undergoing physical therapy; all whilst 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 with your doctor before doing anything of this nature). Eliminating the stress in my life was something I absolutely had to do. I noticed that whenever I was stressed, my pain pain seemed to be far worse. The yoga helped tremendously with this and I also began practicing meditation to help center myself better.
It was also around this time that I met my husband. We didn't begin dating until after I turned 21, but we had been friends for over a year at this point. He has been my rock and has helped me through the pain like no one else ever had. Being so young, I was always worried that I would never find someone near my age that would be understanding of chronic pain or of the fact that I wouldn't be as healthy as most people my age. He proved me wrong on all my fears. He took on my issues, has held me when I've cried because the pain has been too much, and has not missed a single one of my doctor appointments. I have truly been blessed with having him enter my life.
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. Pregnancy was probably the most amazing thing to happen to my husband and me. We had wanted to start a family very badly, but assumed we would have to resort to adoption. Without trying to become pregnant, we became pregnant! I suppose children like to sneak up on you like that.
I still practice meditation and yoga. I am a practicing Pagan; my religion has helped me stay tough through the pain and stress DDD causes. I no longer take any pain meds, but have embarked on more alternative medicines, such as herbs.
DDD can be managed. There are many options, even surgery, that can help you manage 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 the pain.