Degenerative Disc Disease Causes and Treatments

Many back pain sufferers remember the exact moment they felt their back “go out” along with the start of the searing, breathtaking pain that came along with it. Perhaps it is a sneeze, a cough, picking up your child, or even the simple act of getting out of your car that brought forth that often immobilizing feeling of a strained back. Maybe the sufferer felt the beginning soreness of an injured back before it completely went out or maybe there were no symptoms before the injury occurred.


In this article, we will examine one of the most common underlying causes of back strain — degenerative disc disease. What are the causes and symptoms of this common issue? We will also discuss the reasons why a single event usually is not the only cause of symptoms of a pulled back. Finally, we will explain some of the most common and effective treatments available for this often painful condition.


What Causes Back Strain?


The feeling of a “pulled” back or a “back going out” is usually caused by muscle strain. Our spines are held together by a complex chain of ligaments and muscles. When these muscles suffer tiny tears in the tissue, they become unable to correctly hold our spine in place. When the spine is not in the correct position, the muscles and bones can push on the voluminous nerve system running through our bodies causing nerve pain. Sciatica pain that can run down the leg is an example of this type of nerve pain.


What causes these tiny tears in the back muscle that contribute to low back strain? There are many different causes that occur in everyday life, including the following:


  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Bending repeatedly
  • Falling
  • Emotional stress
  • Sitting in the same position for a long time
  • Physical exertion to an extreme degree
  • A severe, long-lasting cough
  • Slouching or incorrect posture


What are Other Possible Causes of Back Pain?


Some less common causes include the following:


  • Arthritis
  • Infections
  • Tumors
  • Slipped discs
  • Fractures
  • Pinched nerves


What is Degenerative Disc Disease?


Degenerative disc disease occurs when the joints of the spine begin to erode. Degenerative disc disease is actually a form of arthritis due to the fact that, like other forms of arthritis, the cartilage in between the joints of the spine wears out, causing the bone joints to grind against each other and possibly pinch nerves that run between the joints.


According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a good way to conceptualize degenerative disc disease is to consider the discs between the bone vertebrae like cream-filled donuts. The discs are tougher on the outside and soft and cushiony on the inside. The soft disc prevents the hard outside from receiving as much stress by allowing the disc to compress and decompress with flexibility. With age, injury, or overuse, the soft inside disc begins to dry up, causing more stress on the harder exterior of the discs.


With less volume between the discs, the bones can shrink down and pinch the nerves in between them. This shrinking of the softer shock absorbing part of the disc happens to everyone as they age, but for some people, it does not cause noticeable pain. For other people, the pain can be debilitating.


Many people don’t realize that they have degenerative disc disease until they see it on x-rays.  Others suffer moderate to severe pain before finally receiving a diagnosis.


Many times a patient will not know the exact cause of degenerative disc disease but some causes include spinal injury, a family history of degenerative disc disease or chronic back problems, overexerting the back with heavy lifting, or general aging.


What are the Most Common and Effective Treatments of Degenerative Disc Disease?


If arthritis of the spine or degenerative disc disease is causing pain symptoms, it is important that the sufferer seek out medical attention. The doctor or chiropractor will consider many factors such as the severity of the pain, other symptoms, and perhaps conduct an x-ray or MRI to get a better look at exactly what is going on with the patient’s back.


If you visit a chiropractor, he or she will usually take a thorough medical history, including information on your current pain issues, and conduct a physical exam to shed light on any general back issues like twisted hips, a curved spine, or evidence of an injury such as a sprain.


A chiropractor may decide to do spinal manipulation in an attempt to restore motion to joints that are restricted by gently thrusting on the tissue. Another common technique is called the flexion-distraction technique. Chiropractors may use a hand-held instrument to gently adjust parts of the spine, particularly if the patient is in severe pain.


Stretching, therapeutic massage, manual resistance techniques, and trigger point therapy may also contribute to lasting relief of degenerative disc pain.


Will I Need to Have Surgery for My Disc Problem?


In 98% of cases, surgery is not necessary to alleviate disc issues. Surgery may be an option if the symptoms are uncontrollable. For example, a person might have ongoing recurrent pain that is so severe it keeps him or her out of work. Another example would be when nerves are pinched so severely that the patient feels numbness and/or tingling and has difficulty using the affected limb.


Some at-home care tips include rotating the application of heat and ice with the use of acetaminophen to help alleviate the inflammation and discomfort.


Do You Think You Have a Degenerative Disc?


If you are suffering from a sore back, a severely pulled back or chronic back pain, you may have degenerative disc disease. If you have experienced degenerative disc disease symptoms, it is important to get help as soon as possible to try to prevent more degeneration of your discs and relieve pain symptoms. To receive expert help for your degenerative disc disease, contact a Chester, Virginia chiropractor today.