Your spine, when functioning properly, holds you upright, supports your body, and gives you the flexibility to move through your daily activities. However, when you experience discomfort or pain in your spine, it can be debilitating to the point of being unable to get out of bed.
Most patients with lumbar degenerative disc disease experience continuous but tolerable pain, which intensifies occasionally. However, there are times that the disease can cause severe pain and possible disability. In this case, it is essential to seek medical advice as professional treatment may be necessary.
What is Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease?
Medical professionals divide the back into three sections: cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine.
The lumbar spine is the lowest section, and just like its counterparts, contains vertebrae. The vertebrae are the primary weight-bearing sections of the spine. They also provide a resting place for intervertebral discs that separate each vertebra and act as shock absorbers. These discs are designed to be flexible to allow movement and absorb pressure.
Lumbar degenerative disc disease is a specific back disease that can cause pain and impede your day-to-day activities. This condition involves a damaged spinal disc which causes chronic lower back pain in the lumbar spine. The risk factors that can cause damage to this disc can include obesity, strenuous physical labor, tobacco smoking, or a twisting injury where portions of the disc may tear.
This injury in the lumbar spine or the lower back can create motion instability at the vertebrae, as the disc can no longer hold the vertebral segment together. Moreover, since the disc does not have a blood supply, it has no way to repair itself, which means the pain can last for years.
Lumbar Degenerative Disc Causes
The low back pain associated with lumbar degenerative disc disease is usually experienced as an effect of inflammation. It occurs when proteins in the lumbar spine disc irritate the surrounding nerves—both small and large—that go up to the legs.
Another cause of lumbar pain is abnormal micromotion instability, which occurs when the disc’s outer rings are worn down and no longer effectively absorb stress in the spine. Such incapacity to absorb stress results in the movement along the vertebral segment.
When excessive micromotion instability is coupled with inflammatory proteins, it may result in chronic and ongoing lower back pain.
Lumbar Degenerative Disc Symptoms
The symptoms of degenerative disc disease can vary from one person to another. Often caused by age-related wear and tear, most patients of this lumbar disc disease will experience low-grade but continuous pain. This pain may intensify for a few days. Bone spurs can often develop as a result of this disease, causing back pain as well.
Some of the most common symptoms include the following:
- Pain that is centered on the lower back which can radiate to the hips and legs;
- Lower back pain that is continuous and has lasted for more than six weeks;
- The sensation is often described as more of a painful ache in the lower back rather than a searing or burning pain that radiates;
- Pain that frequently worsens when sitting or when the lumbar discs experience a heavier load than when patients are standing, walking, or even laying down. The pain can also be aggravated by prolonged standing in the same manner as bending forward and lifting an object;
- Pain that is exacerbated by specific movements like bending, twisting, or lifting;
- Numbness and tingling in the legs and the difficulty in walking;
- Leg pain from the nerve root pinching, which is caused if the disc space collapses;
- Pain and other symptoms are experienced from minimal motions as the disc becomes weaker;
- Leg pain, numbness, and tingling where nerves can become sensitized with inflammation from the proteins within the disc space and produce the sensation of numbness or tingling. However, the pain does not generally go below the knee.
Lumbar Degenerative Disc Diagnosis
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, what should you do next? An accurate diagnosis is critical for anyone experiencing back pain. Diagnosing the root problem of your pain allows for swift and accurate treatment. Lumbar degenerative disc disease can be diagnosed in several ways.
First, your medical professional will get a comprehensive picture of your medical history, symptoms, and lifestyle and perform a physical exam. This will help assess your risk and likelihood of disc degeneration.
Medical diagnostic scans help determine the problem. Your medical professional may order an MRI, CT scan, or X-ray to help get a clearer picture of the condition of your spine. However, there are limitations to these tests, and there may be some damage that does not show up.
Discography is another diagnostic tool that can specifically determine the condition of the discs of your spine. It is a non-surgical option that consists of injecting discs with a liquid to identify and isolate pain.
Lumbar Degenerative Disc Treatment Options
Commonly, treatment for lumbar degenerative disc disease can be non-surgical or conservative, composed mostly of pain medication to control and suppress the pain and inflammation.
This could be in the form of steroid medications, which you can take either orally or through epidural injections. It can also be in the form of physical therapy and exercises specifically designed to ease lumbar disc pain.
Surgery can involve spinal fusion. It is only considered when patients have not achieved the desired relief from non-surgical treatments for six months, or the pains have put a tremendous toll on the patient’s regular or daily activities.
However, before non-surgical treatments are used, the first step towards obtaining relief from lumbar pains is modifying daily activities. As such, a patient is usually advised to avoid aggravating activities, especially those involving lifting heavy objects and playing sports that require rotation of the hips or lower back. Limiting these activities will help reduce pain.
Seek a Qualified Professional for Help with Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease
Whether you are experiencing degenerative discs or other issues causing you pain, the key to finding the best solution is to work with an experienced team of medical professionals. We can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and work with you to develop an effective treatment plan.
If you’re having pain from lumbar degenerative disc disease, schedule an appointment with us today!