Among the natural effects of getting older, the discs of your spinal column lose moisture and volume, and they become less protective of the stresses your body faces. For many people, this may mean a bit more morning stiffness, perhaps some reduced mobility, or they get sore more quickly after some hard work.
However, when deterioration is severe enough to cause chronic nerve pain, the condition is called degenerative disc disease. Though not a disease in the truest sense, since it stems from natural aging, the pain you suffer may be substantial. There are, however, plenty of treatments that can target the specific reasons and symptoms you suffer from degenerative disc disease.
The construction of spinal discs
There are two types of tissue in the discs of your spine, a tough outer shell and a softer, viscous inner core. The classic comparison is to jelly doughnuts, but, of course, made from sturdier material. These discs act as spacers and shock absorbers, giving the bones of your spine room to move while also protecting your body from the forces that naturally occur with movement.
Over time, spinal discs dry out, a problem since they’re made primarily of water. This loss of moisture means the discs get thinner, so they lose some of their shock-absorbing properties. Discs are also susceptible to wear and tear from years of use. In addition to reduced moisture, cracks may occur in the outer shell, and the core material can escape, called a disc herniation. This can irritate nerves on the disc itself or press on other nerves in or branching from the spinal cord.
Treatment progression for degenerative disc disease
The most effective treatment for you depends on several factors, including the cause of your pain, the severity of degeneration, and the location of nerve irritation. Generally, treatment starts conservatively. This can include pain management to permit greater mobility while undergoing physical therapy to develop support muscles, increase range of motion, and give your body’s natural healing systems assistance.
Facet joint injections using corticosteroids and local anesthetics can reduce inflammation and effectively treat pain, though the number of cortisone shots you can receive is limited, due to side effects on surrounding tissue. Facet rhizotomy uses radiofrequency energy to alter pain signals sent between nerves and brain, giving longer periods of relief than cortisone shots for some patients.
Minimally invasive surgery now offers ways to correct some deterioration without the long recovery times associated with conventional open surgery. Discs that have degenerated to the point where they no longer perform the jobs they’re designed for can be removed. Spinal fusion creates a bond between the two vertebrae on each side of a removed disk, effectively creating a single bone.
Artificial discs can also be implanted in place of a damaged disc. This has an advantage over spinal fusion in that natural motion of the entire spine is preserved.
When degenerative disc disease starts to impact your life, it’s time to visit Dr. Benjamin Cohen. An experienced neurosurgeon, Dr. Cohen offers years of research and practical experience devoted the relief of pain and restoration of a healthy and mobile life. Contact the office by phone or request an appointment online to arrange your consultation with Dr. Cohen.