As a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon, I see all sorts of people, at different stages of their lives, suffering from a wide variety of conditions. One thing my patients from Baton Rouge to Slidell have in common is that they love to get out and live life to the fullest.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell when you’ve just overdone it with yard work, or have a more serious, but treatable condition. Today, I’ll tell you about Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD), what causes it, its symptoms, and the options for treatment.
Throughout your life, your spine takes on the pressure of your daily existence. Your back endures heavy lifting, absorbs the pounding from your feet, supports you when you bend over to weed your garden, and adjusts for a wide range of motion. So, it’s only natural that, over time, it suffers a little wear and tear.
While not everyone suffers from Degenerative Disc Disease, it’s estimated that at least 30% of people between the ages of 30-50 will have some degree of disc degeneration. That means if you live long enough, you’re more than likely to have some symptoms.
The 5 Factors that Can Increase the Odds
1. Increased Age
The older you get, the more your discs are worn down. But the good news is that the pain from DDD does not increase with age. Usually, the disc stabilizes, and pain is reduced within about three months.
2. Family History of Degenerative Disc Disease
If other people in your family have had problems, your chances of developing Degenerative Disc Disease are higher, no matter what your age.
3. Spinal Trauma
While a car accident or work-related injury definitely can cause trauma to your spine, did you know that if you’re an athlete who plays contact sports such as football, rugby, hockey or weightlifting, you might also be causing trauma to your spine? Additionally, certain occupations like construction jobs, moving, and landscaping can increase your chances of injuring a disc and developing Degenerative Disc Disease.
Usually we think of smoking as being bad for the lungs, but it also affects your spine. Nicotine poisons the system and robs the discs of essential nutrients. The carbon monoxide that smokers introduce into their bodies, gets into the blood stream and keeps the discs from absorbing the nutrients they need. As the discs become weaker, they’re more likely to degenerate. Smokers also cough a lot, which puts added pressure on the spine and can lead to ruptured discs.
Carrying extra weight is not just bad for your heart! It also puts extra strain on your spine. Additionally, if you’re obese, it’s hard to be active, which can contribute to the development of Degenerative Disc Disease. And inability to move around also restricts the movement that can sometimes relieve the disc pain.
So how do you know if you have Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative Disc Disease usually causes lower back, neck and hip pain as well as an aching or burning pain that runs down the buttocks and into the thighs. The pain can be caused by specific activities, such as bending, lifting and twisting. Sometimes walking, changing positions or lying down can help to reduce it. For some people, the pain is excruciating and unrelenting, while others suffer temporary discomfort that goes away within a few hours or days.
Regular exercise is an important part of reducing the pain associated with DDD, although, if you are just starting out, you should speak with your doctor about what exercises are best for you. Non-cardio exercises like yoga, Pilates, stretching, and core strengthening can help to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles that support your spine.
Minimally Invasive Surgical Techniques
The good news is that usually the pain from DDD settles itself without the need for surgery, but, if surgery is necessary, it will likely be one of the following types:
Minimally Invasive Discectomy
If the disc tears or bursts, sometimes the soft portion in the middle squirts out to put pressure on the nerves surrounding it. This is called a “herniated disc”. This can cause pain in the buttocks or thighs, commonly known as sciatica. A Discectomy is the process of removing the burst disc that is causing the pain.
Minimally Invasive Laminectomy
Sometimes pressure, often caused by overgrowth of the facet joints related to arthritis, can cause pain in the spine. A Laminectomy removes the back portion of vertebra—the lamina—and creates more space, relieving pressure on the spine or nerves.
Minimally Invasive Fusion
This surgery usually involves making a small incision through the patient’s back. With a Minimally Invasive Fusion, the ruptured disc is removed to alleviate pressure and then we use metal screws, rods and bone grafts to fuse the spine. With some patients, it’s necessary to fuse the spine through the abdomen and others will need surgery both through the front and the back.
Cervical Total Disc Replacement
Using this procedure, we remove the damaged disc and replace it with an artificial disc. A Cervical Total Disc Replacement is similar to that of spinal fusion, but, instead of fusing the spine, a metal disc is inserted and attached to the vertebra above and below the damaged disc. This allows for normal range of motion of the cervical spine and takes the pressure off of the discs above and below.
If you find that nothing is working, that you’re struggling to move or that your quality of life is being affected, it’s probably a good idea to come in for a consultation. Depending on how bad your symptoms are, some of the treatments I might recommend include activity modification, anti-inflammatory medications, heat or ice treatment, specific core strengthening exercises, epidural steroid injections and, if necessary, surgery.
Degenerative Disc Disease can affect anyone, but it’s important to remember that the pain is temporary and that you have many options. If you have questions about minimally invasive spinal treatments, please schedule an appointment today at one of our clinics in Covington, Slidell, Metairie, Hammond or Baton Rouge.
I’ll meet with you personally, and make sure you understand not only what’s causing your pain, but how we can work together to relieve it! Call my office today at (985)400-5778 to schedule your one-on-one consultation. I’ll be happy to review your case and help determine if you just over did it, or if you may be suffering from Degenerative Disc Disease.