Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment Options

Spinal discs are soft, compressible structures that separate the vertebrae in the spine. A spinal disc is composed of a tough outer layer of cartilage that surrounds softer cartilage in the center.

The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend, and twist and separate the vertebrae so they do not rub together. With age, spinal discs can lose fluid causing the cartilage to stiffen and reduce the ability of the discs to act as a shock absorbers. They may also become thinner and tear or crack. This is degenerative disc disease, part of the normal aging process.

When the disc deteriorates it can allow the vertebrae to rub together which causes pain, numbness, radiating pain and can lead to a herniated disc, spinal stenosis and vertebrae that move in and out of place. If a vertebral disc cracks or tears it can cause a herniated disc that can impinge on a spinal nerve. Degenerative disc disease typically affects the vertebral discs in the lumbar spine or the neck.

It’s crucial for individuals experiencing symptoms suggestive of a disc issue to seek medical evaluation. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can prevent further damage and improve quality of life. Imaging studies like MRI or CT scans are often used to confirm the diagnosis and plan treatment.

  1. Physical Therapy and Exercise: A cornerstone of treatment for degenerative disc disease is physical therapy. It helps to strengthen the core muscles, improving spinal flexibility, and enhancing overall stability. Exercises are tailored to individual needs, focusing on stretching and strengthening the back and abdominal muscles. This approach not only alleviates pain but also improves posture and reduces the risk of further injury.
  2. Pain Management: Effective pain management is vital to quality of life. Over the counter NSAIDS can reduce inflammation and pain. Prescription pain medications may be indicted for more severe cases. These might include muscle relaxants, or nerve pain medications like gabapentin.
  3. Epidural Steroid Injections: These injections deliver corticosteroids directly into the epidural space around the spinal nerves, reducing inflammation and providing pain relief. They are often used for patients who do not respond to oral medications or physical therapy.
  4. Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation (Rhizotomy or Neurotomy): This is a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to generate heat which is applied to the sensory nerves that are causing pain to block pain signals from the damaged nerves being sent to the brain. The procedure is performed with local anesthetic and light sedation. It is an excellent option for chronic pain because it offers longer term pain management and can reduce the need for pain medications. The benefits include pain relief and improved function with quick recovery. Pain relief can last for six month to a year or more. As the treated nerves regrow, the procedure can be repeated as needed. It is generally safe and effective with minimal temporary side effects or complications. Radiofrequency ablation has been proven to be an effective option for treatment of chronic low back pain.

  1. Lifestyle Modifications: Lifestyle changes play a significant role in managing degenerative disc disease. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on the spine, and avoiding tobacco products can improve blood flow to the spinal tissues. Patients are also advised to practice good posture and ergonomics, especially during sitting, lifting, and activities that strain the back.
  2. Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat can increase blood flow and relieve muscle tension, while cold therapy can reduce inflammation and numb sore areas. Patients are often advised to use a heating pad or ice pack at home as part of their pain management regimen.
  3. Alternative Therapies: Some patients find relief through alternative treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage therapy. These therapies can be adjuncts to traditional medical treatment, offering additional pain relief and relaxation.

If these nonsurgical options fail to provide relief for back or neck pain caused by degenerative disc disease your Dallas Neurological and Spine doctor may recommend surgery to relieve the pressure on nerves and improve function.

When you or a loved one suffers with back pain, contact Dallas Neurological and Spine to receive the correct diagnosis and all your treatment options. We have the skills and experience to help you achieve a result that improves your quality of life.

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