Spinal discs have a unique structure.

They have a round shape with a flat top and bottom that attaches to the vertebra both above and below. These discs are made of two parts – an outer ring and a softer inner part.

Our spinal column comprises of 23 spinal discs, whose primary function is to act as shock absorbers to prevent the discs from banging against each other. They also allow movement of the spinal column when you move or perform an action.

As we age, these discs lose the water in the softer part (the discs are 80 percent water at birth!). As the water disappears over time, these discs start to stiffen, which means they won’t adjust to the compression forces that you apply to the spinal column each day. The process is part of the natural aging process, but in some people, it causes a lot of pain.

This is what we call the Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD).

Today we look at the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Diagnosis of DDD

X-ray

X-rays of the back shows loss of height of the disc space. Since the disc is 80 percent water in a normal situation, then it is visible on the x-ray. When the disc becomes degenerated, it becomes smaller than normal and this is also evident on an x-ray.

MRI

The T-2 images on the MRI will display a black area when the disc is degenerated, due to the loss of water. The area displays as a high intensity zone.

CAT Scan

This doesn’t help dramatically when it comes to diagnosis. The procedure is usually performed after a discogram to confirm diagnosis.

Treatment Options

The aim of treatment is to minimize stress on the disc using ergonomics delivered through exercise, proper posture and rehabilitation. It is usually in the best interest of a patient if the condition is treated using conservative options as opposed to surgery.

Spinal Decompression

This is the nonsurgical treatment that is used to reduce symptoms of the condition by treating the cause of the DDD. The aim of the treatment is to reduce pressure on the nerves and disc and to rehydrate the disc by drawing in nutrients and fluids.

Combination Therapy

Another option is to use a combination of treatments such as chiropractic manipulative therapy (CMT), physical therapy exercise, anti-inflammatory medications and spinal injections. Other options include the use of chiropractic treatments and traction.

Muscle Balance Therapy

This therapy eliminates the back pain, and it starts with an assessment of the muscles that affect the spine in terms of stability and flexibility. The doctor uses the results of the assessment to come up with corrective exercises that help take the stress off the joints, muscles and ligaments so that you can have a more balanced body and eliminate the pain.

Ultrasound and Massage

This approach helps to restore blood flow to the affected area to reduce the tension in the muscles.

Exercises

There are a few exercises that you can use to reduce the symptoms as well as improve the flexibility of the spine. These include low back stretch, kneeling leg raise, back extensions and other specific exercises recommended by the doctor depending on the condition.

Conclusion

Degenerative disc disease is a common condition that affects many people. The condition comes by as a result of normal aging process, but the good thing is that it can be treated using the right approach.

Degenerative Disc Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment Options
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