Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is the general term for the type of age-related disc wear that can contribute to back pain and related symptoms. The resulting discomfort can also involve numbness, pain that radiates to the legs, and other nerve-based issues. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat degenerative disc pain, from physical therapy to surgical procedures such as ACDF surgery. Los Angeles patients experiencing symptoms related to worn spinal discs should know some of the more common treatment options that may be beneficial for them.
It’s common for degenerative disc disease to produce flare-ups triggered by movement and daily activities. If this is the type of pain you have, you may experience relief with self-care that involves:
• Resting for a brief time while still finding ways to remain as active as possible
• Applying heat and/or ice to the affected area*
• Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory/pain medications
• Acetaminophen, if you have issues with NSAIDs and no known risks associated with acetaminophen (e.g., liver disease)
*Limit applications to 15–20 minutes at a time every few hours, but avoid direct skin contact.
Note: See your doctor if stronger prescription medication is needed.
Once your pain has reached a manageable level, you’ll likely be advised to adopt a regular physical therapy routine. A licensed physical therapist can use results from your diagnostic tests and responses to other treatment efforts to recommend a routine likely to be helpful. Physical therapy can be beneficial, since it encompasses a wide range of methods, some of which include:
• Exercises that target back-supporting muscles
• Stretching routines to increase circulation and range of motion
• Massage or manual therapy or myofascial release to ease soft tissue stress
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to block nerve signals
• Nonsurgical spinal immobilization
A physical therapist, chiropractor, or similar practitioner may also recommend low-impact aerobic exercise to strengthen your spine and boost your mood so your discomfort is minimized. Possibilities include exercise/stationary bike use, walking, elliptical machine use, and water-based exercise.
In some cases, discomfort related to DDD may be manageable with some adjustments to your regular lifestyle. Such efforts might include:
• Modifying or stopping certain activities that tend to trigger your symptoms
• Supporting your back with an ergonomic chair or lumbar support pillow when you sit
• Adjusting how you sleep so your spine is better aligned
• Making an effort to sit less and get up more throughout your day
If you still need some help managing degenerative disc pain even after trying physical therapy, over-the-counter medication, and lifestyle adjustments, you may be advised to try an interventional procedure such as therapeutic injections directly into the affected area.
If you’re still not experiencing meaningful relief, further diagnostic testing may be done to determine if surgery might be right for you. Surgery for disc-related pain might also be recommended under the following circumstances:
• A clear source of nerve compression or irritation was determined with injections used for diagnostic purposes
• Nerve-based symptoms like numbness are getting worse
• Your symptoms are disrupting your daily life even after trying nonsurgical remedies for 2–3 months
• You’re experiencing a loss of bladder/bowel control*
*If this is the case, seek immediate medical attention
Take comfort from knowing most instances of discomfort related to degenerative disc disease can be treated with conservative care. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon so the true source of your pain can be treated.
If you’re experiencing severe or persistent back pain, make sure to see an experienced back pain specialist for prompt diagnosis and treatment. The industry-leading physicians at The Spine Institute are pioneers in spinal health, employing cutting-edge technology and innovative methods to enable patients to live pain-free, active lives. To schedule a personal consultation with one of our spinal health experts, give us a call today at 310-828-7757.