What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Over time, the discs in your spine start to show signs of wear and tear as you get older. When these normal changes in your body occur and it causes you pain, it is called degenerative disc disease. The discs in your spine are shock absorbers in between each vertebrae (the bones along your spine) that allow you to bend and twist. They also hold the vertebrae together allowing mobility along the spine.
There are a few things that can happen to your discs as you get older. One of which is drying out. When you are young, there is fluid in the disc. This fluid is replenished over time, but as you get older your discs start to lose water and thin out. Because of this, there is less cushion in between your vertebrae.
With age the discs can also start to tear. Normal everyday movements over time as well as minor injuries can cause tears in the disc. These tears can cause the fluid within the disc to leak and cause irritation the the surrounding nerves. The tears can also cause the disc to bulge out which could put pressure on the nerves. When this happens, it is called a herniated disc.
Symptoms can range from numbness and tingling in your arms or legs, or a sharp and constant pain. The location of your pain can vary depending on where the compromised disc is. Pain can be located in your lower back and radiate down your legs. This pain can also come and go or it can last for days or even weeks. Depending on where it is located, you could feel less pain when you are sitting or it might feel better for you to walk around. Your pain may get worse if you bend, lift or twist. Degenerative disc disease may cause numbness, tingling, or even weakness down your leg. If this is the case, the disc is most likely affecting the surrounding nerve and you should see a chiropractor to start treatment before the symptoms get worse.
How Can a Chiropractor Diagnose Disc Degeneration?
When you have an initial visit with a chiropractor, they will do a thorough evaluation. This will include your medical history, current symptoms, the location of your pain, movements that make it better or worse, and the potential cause of your pain. There are many different reasons why your neck or back may hurt and your chiropractor wants to make sure that they are treating the correct issue. The chiropractor may also order an MRI or an x-ray for you to better diagnose the problem.
Your chiropractor will most likely use spinal manipulation to help with disc degeneration using a few different techniques.
Specific spinal Manipulation: This is where the chiropractor will work on the specific joint or area of your spine that is causing you pain or restricted movement. This is done using a gentle thrusting technique that can relieve pressure between the joints.
Flexion distraction: This is a gentle, non-force technique that is performed on a special table. This allows the compressed spinal disc spaces to open, traction of the spine, and it even reduces the pressure on facet joints (the joints in your back that allow you to bend and twist). This method is also used for herniated discs.
Manual Manipulation: These can include trigger point therapy, manual joint stretches, and therapeutic massage. With these techniques, the problem area is targeted to help relieve pain and tension.
Ultrasound and Electrical stimulation: Ultrasound helps to reduce muscle spasms as well as stiffness and pain using sound waves that go deep into your muscles, generating heat to improve circulation. Electrical stimulation using a low electrical current to stimulate muscles to reduce inflammation.
Your chiropractor may use one or all of these techniques to help ease your symptoms of degenerative disc disease. These techniques along with a healthy lifestyle, such as a nutritious diet, exercise, and stress management could help decrease your neck and back pain due to disc degeneration.