Chiropractic Care for Degenerative Disc Disease
31 March 2022
Here at Willow Chiropractic, we understand that ageing is part of life, and as we grow older, back pain can become more prevalent. One of the most common causes of lower back pain is degenerative disc disease.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Almost everyone’s spinal discs show signs of wear and tear, it’s part of the natural process as you age. Degenerative disc disease is not an actual disease, or a condition, but is where your ageing spinal discs can cause pain. The spine is composed of 33 bones connected by discs and separated by a material called spongy disc. Spinal discs are made out of strong connective tissue. The tough outer layer is called the annulus fibrosus, and the centre of each disc, the nucleus pulposus, is the inner core of the disc which is gel-like in its normal state. A healthy disc acts as a cushion between the vertebrae. With age, discs lose water content and become narrower, less flexible and less effective as shock absorbers.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease symptoms vary, from severe pain to no symptoms whatsoever. The symptoms you might experience will depend on the location and severity. However, when symptoms occur, these might include;
- Back pain, which may radiate into the back of the legs or arms.
- Weakness, numbness or tingling in the extremities is also possible.
- Back pain which is aggravated by sitting.
- Back pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting.
- Foot drop pain, typically a sign of damage to the nerve root.
The most common areas affected by degenerative disc disease are the bottom of the neck and the bottom of the lower back. As degenerative disc disease is a degenerative condition, we tend to categorise them into stages;
This is early on, and in most cases you may not have any symptoms, even for a period of years. In this stage, you may find that even though you have no pain, there will definitely be some observational changes such as :
- Restricted movement
- Areas of stiffness and tension
- General inflexibility
Experiencing these observations will not mean you have Degenerative Disc Disease, however, we would suggest contacting us for peace of mind.
As degeneration of your discs progress, varying symptoms start to present themself, some from a mild neck and shoulder ache to lower back ache and hip stiffness. These symptoms may not inhibit your daily general routine. But as degenerative disc disease progresses, further damage to your spine will occur. This will lead to more pressure on the joints and wear and tear of the spinal joints. Most people with Stage 2 are between 20-30 years old.
Generally, we see ages of 30 – 50 with Stage 3 of Degenerative Disc Disease. In this stage, the discs start to dehydrate and shrink. This leads to more pressure on the joints, and as your disc begins to shrink so does the space where the nerve exits in between the vertebrae.
At this stage, you may start experiencing flare ups when you are under certain physical or emotional stress. This can then cause an episode of neck and back pain more severe and sharper in nature, alongside the dull, achy pain and stiffness. Everytime one of these flare ups happen, it can cause damage to the muscles, joints, ligaments, and connective tissues and discs of the spine.
This damage causes inflammation, which in turn puts pressure on the nerves. This can lead to additional symptoms, like:
- Referred pain down the arms or legs
- Burning or tingling session
- Numbness or pins and needles
- Sharp shooting pains
You may also notice that you may experience observational changes such as curvature of the spine and further increased back pain and reduced mobility.
Individuals over the age of 50 will typically experience stage 4. The individual may experience all their previous symptoms, however there is an even further narrowing of the discs. This adds more pressure to the joints, and, if the individual has had any previous trauma, the implications can cause further problems like Arthritis and spinal stenosis. This can lead to problems with mobility, strength, and difficulty walking.
As spinal health deteriorates, flare ups will become more severe and more frequent, and in some cases debilitating. It will start to impact a person’s daily activities. Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability in the UK, and this is largely because people don’t generally look after their spine.
How is Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosed
The first step of any consultation is to go through your clinical history. This is the part where we find out about you. This could be:
- How long have your symptoms been present?
- How intense is the pain?
- Where are you feeling the pain?
- Have you had any previous treatment?
- Have you noticed anything that may aggravate your symptoms?
- What’s your occupation?
We would then begin a thorough physical examination. This is where we analyse your posture, your body’s range of motion, test muscle strength and balance, and examine the vertebrae to identify where the problems are.
MRIs may also be used, depending on the patient’s clinic history, as it can help to visualise the discs and identify any bulging or dehydrated discs. However, we find that the MRI scans don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes the findings don’t reflect what is causing the symptoms, even if there are disc-related issues. To give a better understanding of your prognosis, we tend to combine the history, physical exam and images.
The best type of treatment is conservative management through manual therapy. As Chiropractors, we use spinal adjustments to promote movement through the joints to relieve stiffness. The more mobile the joints are, the better hydrated your discs are. This helps to keep the pressure off the nerves and keeps the brain’s nerve signals to the body functioning optimally. Chiropractic care can help to relieve the symptoms of degenerative disc disease
We tend to use spinal adjustment as a mainstay because the technique helps to promote movement through the joints to relieve stiffness and help your discs stay hydrated. Spinal Adjustment will also help keep pressure off the nerve, and keep the brain’s nerve signals to the body functioning optimally. Overall Chiropractic care can help relieve symptoms and minimise the progression of degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative disc disease is a part of the natural ageing process; this means maintenance pays dividends, and with the right treatment plan, it can be slowed down.
Chiropractic treatment at Willow
Chiropractic adjustments are great for combating degenerative disc disease , but also remember that you do not have to be in pain to see one of our Chiropractors. It’s a great tool for being proactive with your health. Simply think of it as an MOT, you want to ensure your body is functioning to its optimum.