If you’re experiencing mild to moderate chronic neck and low back pain that sometimes becomes more severe, you may be suffering from degenerative disc disease. It’s one of the most common causes of low back and neck pain, and yet it is one of the most misunderstood conditions.
For one thing, degenerative disc disease is not really a disease, but rather a disorder that involves age-related spinal disc wear-and-tear, causing pain, instability and in some cases weakness, numbness, and hot shooting pain in your arms or legs. The wear-and-tear is due to the fact that the spine undergoes the most motion and stress as we go about our day, and thus is most susceptible to disc degeneration.
The most obvious symptom of degenerative disc disease is a relatively mild but continuous pain around the affected disc, which occasionally flares up due to activity and stress on the spine. These flare-ups can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks before the pain diminishes or temporarily disappears.
Other common symptoms include:
- Increased pain when you bend or twist your spine, or when you lift something heavy
- Increased pain when standing or sitting for extended periods
- Spinal instability in which your neck or back “locks up,” making movement difficult
- Muscle tension or spasms
- Pain that radiates to other parts of your body
As serious as it sounds, disc degeneration is a natural part of the aging process. If we live long enough, we all experience changes in our discs. It’s just a question of the nature and severity of our disc degeneration. It’s even possible to have a degenerative disc and not feel any pain or other symptoms.
When pain occurs, it usually is because the disc is irritating a nearby spinal nerve. Painful irritation may occur if proteins leak out of the disc, causing inflammation in the area. Pain may also occur due to unnatural motions between vertebrae because of a decrease in cushioning and support generally provided by the disc. Either way, painful lower back or neck muscle spasms can be triggered; the spasms are your body’s effort to stabilize your spine.
Although disc degeneration is likely to progress as you age, the pain it creates usually doesn’t get more severe. In fact, it usually diminishes a bit over time. Also, degenerative disc disease doesn’t usually lead to long-term disability as most cases can be managed with nonsurgical treatment.
However, in some cases, disc degeneration can lead to or hasten the onset of other, more serious degenerative spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, spondylolisthesis, or scoliosis. That is why it is important to consult with an orthopedic surgeon at the first sign of frequent neck and back pain.
If you are suffering from joint pain, you may benefit from any number of treatment approaches and physical therapies. Call the specialists at Movement Orthopedics at (586) 436-3785 to find out more about our comprehensive services, or to schedule an appointment.