What is disc degeneration (aka. degenerative disc disease)?
- As we age, our body parts are exposed to repetitive stresses and begin to show signs of normal wear and tear at a certain point. This is common in the large weight-bearing joints of the body, such as the knees and hips, but is also very common within the spine. The most common place within the spine for these degenerative changes to present themselves is in the discs that separate each of our vertebral bones. The discs are a soft, shock absorbers which are designed to help the back stay flexible while resisting the great forces that are placed on our spine every day. Each disc is composed of two distinct layers:
- Anulus fibrosis: a firm, tough outer layer which provides durability to the disc. This layer contains nerves which can become painful if a patient develops a tear within the disc.
- Nucleus pulposus: a soft, jelly-like core which increases the disc’s ability to absorb such tremendous forces. This innermost layer contains proteins and inflammatory mediators which can cause the tissues they touch to become swollen and tender. Patients that have these inflammatory mediators leak out of their discs may experience a great deal of pain.
- Because the discs are supported by a very poor blood supply, it is an difficult and slow process for the disc to heal itself following an injury. This leaves us prone to disc degeneration later in life.
What causes disc degeneration?
- Several factors are responsible for whether a patient develops disc degeneration, such as:
- As we age, the disc dies out and no longer absorbs shock as well as it used to. By age 60 most people have some degree of disc degeneration, though not all cases are painful.
- Daily activities and sports
- Activities can cause tears in the outer layer of the disc, as well as normal wear and tear.
- Acute or chronic injuries can cause swelling, pain, and instability within the spine.
What does disc degeneration feel like?
- Disc degeneration presents with different symptoms in each patient. Some of the most common symptoms we at Remedy Pain Solutions observe are:
- Pain when sitting, due to the increased pressure on the spine while in a seated position
- Pain which worsens with bending, lifting, or twisting
- Decreased pain with walking or running
- Need to change positions often or lying down to get relief
- Pain in which comes and goes, in a matter of days to months
- Numbness or tingling radiating down the arms or legs
- Weakness in the arms or legs, such as foot drop
How is disc degeneration diagnosed?
- Patients exhibiting symptoms consistent with disc degeneration should see their physician at Remedy Pain Solutions for a thorough evaluation and physical examination. It is likely your physician will recommend you get an imaging study done, such as an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan. These provide doctors the change to see your spinal structures, and look for signs that your discs are injured or degenerative. Based on your physical exam and imaging findings, treatments can be recommended to alleviate your symptoms.
What treatments are there for disc degeneration?
- Remedy Pain Solutions offers several injection-based therapies for pain due to disc degeneration. Some of these therapies include:
- Epidural steroid injections
- Facet joint injections
- Selective nerve root blocks
- Trigger point injections
- Radiofrequency Ablation (aka. Rhizotomy)
- Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections
- Alpha-2-Macroglobulin injections
- Bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) injections