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.
Lumbar degenerative disc disease is a specific back disease that can cause pain and impede your day to day activities. Medical professionals divide the back into three sections: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. The lumbar spine is the lowest section and just like it’s 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 vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. These discs are designed to be flexible to allow movement and absorb pressure. Each disc is comprised of three main components.
The Nucleus Pulposus
This component is a jelly like inner core of the intervertebral spinal disc. It’s primarily made up of water and collagen. As you age, the nucleus pulposus dries out making it primarily composed of fiber and is far less effective at shock absorption.
The Annulus Fibrosus
The annulus fibrosus is the tough exterior of the disc that packages the nucleus pulposus and keeps it safe. The fibers of this component keep the nucleus pulposus from leaking or herniating.
Vertebral End Plate
The vertebral end plate is made up of thick, calloused bone and bears the brunt of the force when you are bearing weight or experience a herniated disc.
When all these components are healthy and working together properly, your spine should be able to meet your day to day needs with minimal problems. However, because the spine has so many critical parts, if one part isn’t working properly it can cause overall debilitation.
Lumbar degenerative disc disease occurs with age related wear and tear. Discs become more stiff and degenerate to some extent over time. They lose hydration over time and become less effective shock absorbers. The good news is that most degenerative discs do not cause pain and people who develop this disease can live a perfectly normal, healthy life. However, some people find that this type of degeneration causes extreme pain and discomfort. If you suffer from lumbar degenerative disc disease, you may find yourself experiencing these symptoms.
- Continuous Back Pain
You may find yourself in moderate pain that increases gradually and stays for several days at a time. Your pain may be isolated to the place where the damaged disc is located or it may spread to your thighs and groin area.
- Pain Off and On
Your body is made to adapt and as your disc becomes damaged, the spine and surrounding muscles will work to stabilize itself. This means you may experience intense bouts of back pain that will resolve as your body is able to adapt, however, the pain may reoccur as the disc continues to deteriorate.
- Localized Pain
Sometimes a worn disc causes a sensation of tenderness and localized discomfort where the disc is located. These sensations may subside or increase in pain depending on the condition of the disc and your body’s ability to work around it.
- Leg Pain
As your spine becomes unable to support your movements, you may experience shooting pains that radiate through your legs. Some people also experience numbness or tingling.
As your disc becomes weakened and unable to support the weight and movements of the rest of your body you may experience a feeling of your back “giving out”.
- Specific Movements Increase or Decrease Your Pain
Depending on the location and condition of your discs you may find that specific movements such as bending, lifting or twisting increases your pain. Lying down may alleviate your symptoms.
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 a number of ways.
First, your medical professional will get a comprehensive picture of your medical history, symptoms and lifestyle as well as perform a physical exam. This will help assess your risk and likelihood of disc degeneration.
Medical diagnostic scans are helpful in determining the problem. An MRI, a CT scan or X-ray may be ordered to help your medical team 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.
Seek a Qualified Professional
Whether you are experiencing degenerative discs or other issues that are 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 find your day to day quality of life is diminished because of back pain, call our office today.