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Normal Aches of Aging or Degenerative Disc Disease?

back pain in your mid-thirties may be degenerative disc disease

When one hears the term degenerative disc disease, the mind may immediately dive into thoughts of a progressive, crippling condition that will inhibit activity for the rest of one’s life. Is this an accurate outlook when diagnosed with this misunderstood condition?

Degenerative disc disease does not necessarily imply a downhill condition that is as debilitating as it sounds. While a commonly occurring condition in the United States, the condition itself is not defined to a precise set of symptoms, leaving much room for interpretation of the diagnosing practitioner.

The symptoms consistently seen with degenerative disc  disease include pain in the spine most commonly in the lumbar region, or lower back, or in the cervical region, or neck. This pain is generally caused by factors such as instability and inflammation within the joints of the spine. Inflammation of the weight bearing joints in the spine that becomes chronic is known as spinal arthritis or arthritis of the spine. This inflammation occurs when aggravating structural factors cause cascading immune reactions that backfire with increased pain and stiffness.

Most commonly, the initial onset of inflammation and pain is brought on by structural damage to the spine that causes instability. Structural damage to the intervertebral discs may be a result of an acute injury. Another cause is the natural aging process of the spine in which water is lost from the intervertebral discs over the course of time. Degenerative disc disease may naturally re-stabilize with the loss of its inflammatory proteins, therefore the true condition is more common among younger adults (30-50 years) than older adults (over 60). Unfortunately, if left untreated, the resulting disintegration of symptoms and the façade of “feeling better” could be due to the consequential stiffness and reduction of movement in the spine.

When the pain is accompanied by numbness and tingling sensations that travel into the legs, the nerves may be compressed by the inflammatory proteins or reduced space where the nerves normally reside.

The diagnosis of this condition relies on an MRI to show whether the disc has, in fact, lost water and height affecting its ability to absorb shock or if there are other structural damages due to acute injury, such as an annular tear or disc herniation in which a bulge may be impinging on a nearby nerve root.

Degenerative disc disease can be treated in several manners. Conservative treatment is recommended first, including injecting the painful and inflamed area with medications combined with therapy and exercise. These injections may be known as facet injections or epidural steroid injections. In many cases, this is enough and the pain is gone. When pain consists for more than several months and fails conservative treatment options,  surgical options may be recommended. While traditionally this meant a fusion of the joints, reducing movement through an invasive procedure, there are new treatment options for minimally invasive treatment of degenerative disc disease. The endoscopically performed laser procedure, Deuk Laser Disc Repair®, repairs damaged discs rather than fusing or removing bone so that normal range of motion is retained and painless movement is regained.

Many have found an improved quality of life by opting to visit a qualified spine specialist, such as Ara Deukmedjian, MD, who can diagnose their condition and treat their pain quickly and easily with an array of treatment options. To learn more about the laser procedure, Deuk Laser Disc Repair®, call 1-800-Fix-My-Back.

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