WHAT IS DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE?
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is the natural breakdown of intervertebral discs of the spine, which brings the vertebrae closer together and puts pressure on the nerves, leading to pain.
DDD can cause acute or chronic lower back pain, which can also travel to the hips, legs and buttocks. Pins and needles or numbness in the legs may also occur when the spinal nerves around the affected disc become sensitive or irritated. The pain is generally worse when sitting, twisting, lifting or bending and is eased through walking and other movement.
DDD can be caused by an injury to the back, but by far the most common cause is the simple wear and tear of daily life, made worse by poor posture and incorrect body movement. Although a normal part of ageing life, there are a number of factors which increase the risk of DDD, such as family history of the condition, being overweight and careers involving heavy manual labour or prolonged sitting. You are also more likely to suffer from DDD if you have other spine conditions, including osteoarthritis and scoliosis.
DDD is fairly common; it is estimated that at least 30% of people aged 30-50 years old have some degree of disc degeneration, and by the time a patient is in their 60s, some level of disc degeneration is normal rather than the exception.
Your GP will diagnose DDD based on a physical examination and medical history. They may also carry out an MRI scan if you have symptoms such as numbness or weakness. It is important to note that disc degeneration does not necessarily mean that you will be experiencing pain.
Severe cases of DDD may require surgical treatment, however for mild to moderate pain, physiotherapy can offer patients relief from the pain associated with DDD. Following an initial assessment, your physiotherapist will develop an individual program of treatment, designed to enable you to return to your daily life as quickly as possible.
Inflammation is the main short-term reason for pain associated with DDD, therefore, the initial treatment will focus on techniques to reduce this. It will then be followed by treatment to improve joint alignment and range of motion.
Your physiotherapist will also advise you on exercises and stretches which increase the strength and flexibility of muscles that surround and support the spine.
Additionally, it is important to try to adapt your lifestyle to best manage DDD, including not smoking, eating a nutritious diet and ensuring you are a healthy weight.
The patient, a 55 year old male, had worked for most of his life as a manual labourer and had a 5 year history of lower back pain. He also experienced some leg pain which worsened when sitting for long periods. He was taking daily pain medication and felt that his daily activities were significantly restricted.
After an initial appointment to assess his symptoms, our Physiotherapist used manual therapy to improve his joint flexibility and muscle stiffness. She also put together a programme of specific exercises for the patient to do at home and work to reduce the bulging disc, along with some suggestions of ways in which he could reduce the stress on his back at work.
After receiving 4 weekly sessions of treatment, the patient reported a 90% decreased level of back pain and no leg pain, which meant that he was able to significantly reduce his pain medication and return to activities he had previously been unable to do, including playing golf. He continued to self manage and to date has not had a recurrence of his symptoms.
For further advice on how your back pain can be treated, contact one of our experienced physiotherapists today on 01423 884162.
Please be aware that there are many causes of back pain and we will be covering other conditions in further detail in forthcoming blogs. If you have pins and needles, numbness or severe back pain, please see your GP before starting any exercise or following advice on this page.