Lumbar (Low Back) Pain Degenerative Disc Disease

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Is Degenerative Disc Disease to Blame for Your Low Back Pain?

Spinal discs are the soft, compressible cushions separating the interlocking bones (called vertebra) that make up the spine. These discs act as bolsters and shock absorbers against the toll that everyday living takes on your spine. Often as a result of many years of strain and overuse, these discs can degenerate, causing restricted movement and low back pain.

Understanding Degenerative Disc Disease as a Cause of Lumbar Spine Pain

To best understand Degenerative Disc Disease and how it can be a direct factor in causing low back pain, a basic knowledge of the spine works is required. The spine is made up of small bony structures, called vertebrae, that link together to create a long chain which protects the spinal cord. In between each of the vertebrae are these soft, protective spinal discs. These discs are composed of a soft gel-like center surrounded by a tough outer ring. The purpose of the discs is to cushion the spine from daily wear and tear. If there is damage to one or more of these discs, in this case, degenerative disc disease, low back pain can result.

As we age, spinal discs can start to break down, or shrink. In some cases, they can degenerate so much that they completely disappear. When Degenerative Disc Disease occurs, the vertebrae above and below the damaged disc begin to rub against each other because there is no longer a healthy cushion to separate them. This can cause extreme pain and stiffness.

Through gradual wear and tear, the spinal discs begin to lose some of their water content. In doing so, they become less flexible, and more prone to damage with even the most basic of movements. As the discs dehydrate they become thinner, and lose the ability to serve as the soft pillow they once did. The plump discs that helped facilitate fluid movement become thin and dried out. The decrease in flexibility and elasticity of the discs no longer allows them to support fluid movement. The resulting stiff discs can restrict movement and be the cause of low back pain.

Another reason for this disc generation can be attributed to tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc. When these occur, the soft gel-like inside of the disc is pushed out through the cracks. This may cause the delicate disc to bulge, rupture, or break into fragments. The resulting herniated disc can push on nearby nerves and irritate them, resulting in pain, numbness, or tingling along the path of the nerve.

Furthermore, as the discs lose volume and the gap between the vertebrae becomes smaller, the spine becomes less stable. The body will try to compensate for this by creating small bony structures called bone spurs. This new collection of bone can put pressure on the spinal nerves or spinal cord, resulting in more pain.

Where the pain occurs depends largely on the location of the affected disc. An affected disc in the lower back typically results in pain in the low back, buttock, or leg, and the pain may worsen with movement. Carrying excess body weight can also exacerbate the symptoms as the lumbar discs are subjected to extra stress on a daily basis. Though degeneration of the discs is often an expected part of aging, it should be closely monitored by a spine expert. A spine doctor will be able to tailor a low back pain relief and degenerative disc disease treatment option that’s best for you, and help to prevent any future spine problems.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Low Back Pain at Home

  • An exercise and stretching routine can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • Use your legs, not your back for leverage when lifting objects.
  • Take caution and wear comfortable shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • When carrying something, be sure to distribute its weight evenly, not favoring one side.
  • Consult a spine specialist for severe low back pain that hasn’t resolved with conservative methods in a few weeks.

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