Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease is a condition where the discs between the spinal vertebrae gradually wear down and lose their cushioning ability, leading to pain, stiffness, and limited mobility in the affected area.

Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative Disc Disease
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Your Guide to Understanding Degenerative Disc Disease

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative Disc Disease is a condition that affects the discs in the spine. The discs are rubbery cushions located between each vertebra, acting as shock absorbers and providing flexibility to the spine. As we age, these discs can gradually wear down or degenerate, leading to Degenerative Disc Disease.

The main cause of Degenerative Disc Disease is the natural aging process. As we get older, the discs lose their water content, making them less flexible and more prone to damage. Additionally, repeated stress or trauma to the spine, such as heavy lifting or repetitive movements, can accelerate the degeneration of the discs. Genetics also plays a role, as some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing this condition.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Degenerative Disc Disease?

Physiotherapy services are highly beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of degenerative disc disease. Physiotherapists employ a multi-faceted approach to address the condition, including manual therapy techniques such as joint mobilizations and spinal manipulations to improve joint mobility and reduce pain.

They may also use modalities like heat or cold therapy, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation to relieve inflammation and promote healing. Additionally, physiotherapists design personalized exercise programs targeting the core muscles and surrounding structures to improve stability and support the spine. By combining these various interventions, physiotherapy helps individuals with degenerative disc disease manage pain, improve function, and enhance their overall quality of life.

What causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative Disc Disease is typically caused by a combination of factors, although the exact reason for its development is not fully understood. It is primarily associated with the natural aging process and wear and tear on the spinal discs over time. The spinal discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae, gradually lose their water content and become less flexible as we age. This leads to thinning and degeneration of the discs, making them more susceptible to damage.

While aging is the primary cause, other factors can contribute to the development of Degenerative Disc Disease. These factors may include repetitive movements or activities that put excessive stress on the spine, such as heavy lifting or bending. Additionally, genetics may play a role, as some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing this condition.

What treatments might help Degenerative Disc Disease?

The treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease aims to manage symptoms, improve functionality, and enhance overall quality of life. Here are some ways treatment can help:

  • Weight management: Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight can alleviate stress on the spine, reducing pain and slowing down the progression of degeneration.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Making positive lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and incorporating regular exercise, can improve strength, flexibility, and overall spine health.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like aspirin or ibuprofen, can help manage inflammation, swelling, and pain associated with Degenerative Disc Disease. Prescription muscle relaxants may also be used for short-term relief.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy programs tailored to individual needs can help strengthen the core muscles, increase flexibility, and improve posture. This can reduce pain and enhance function.
  • Epidural injections: In some cases, epidural injections may be recommended to deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly to the affected area, providing temporary relief from pain and inflammation.
  • Surgical interventions: Surgery is typically considered as a last resort if conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief. Procedures like discectomy or disc replacement may be performed to remove the damaged disc or replace it with an artificial one.

Signs of Degenerative Disc Disease:

Degenerative Disc Disease can manifest through various signs and symptoms, which may vary from person to person. Here are some common indicators to watch out for:

  • Chronic or recurring neck or back pain: One of the primary signs of Degenerative Disc Disease is persistent pain in the neck or lower back. The pain may come and go or be present consistently, and it can range from mild to severe.
  • Stiffness and reduced flexibility: You may experience stiffness in the affected area, making it challenging to move certain parts of your spine. This can lead to difficulty in bending, twisting, or performing daily activities.
  • Radiating pain: Degenerative Disc Disease can cause pain that radiates from the spine into other areas, such as the arms or legs. This pain may follow a specific nerve root pattern and can be accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness in the affected limb.
  • Muscle weakness: As the condition progresses, you may notice weakness in certain muscles, particularly those connected to the affected discs. This weakness can impact your ability to perform tasks that require strength or endurance.
  • Limited mobility: Reduced range of motion in the spine and associated joints is another potential sign of Degenerative Disc Disease. It may become difficult to perform movements that involve bending, twisting, or extending the spine fully.
  • Worsening symptoms with activity: Certain activities, such as lifting heavy objects, prolonged sitting, or repetitive movements, can exacerbate the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease. Pain and discomfort may increase during or after engaging in these activities.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease:

Degenerative Disc Disease can manifest with a variety of symptoms, but they can vary from person to person. Here are some common symptoms to be aware of:

  • Persistent or intermittent pain: People with Degenerative Disc Disease often experience chronic or recurring pain in the affected areas, such as the neck or lower back. The pain can range from mild to severe and may come and go over time.
  • Stiffness and decreased flexibility: You may notice stiffness in your neck or back, making it difficult to move those areas freely. This can lead to reduced flexibility and limited range of motion.
  • Radiating pain: Degenerative Disc Disease can cause pain that radiates from the spine to other parts of the body, such as the arms or legs. This pain may follow specific nerve pathways and can be accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness in the affected limb.
  • Muscle weakness: As the condition progresses, you may experience muscle weakness, particularly in the muscles connected to the affected discs. This weakness can impact your ability to perform certain activities that require strength or endurance.
  • Limited mobility: Decreased mobility in the spine and associated joints is another possible symptom. It may become challenging to perform movements that involve bending, twisting, or fully extending the spine.
  • Worsening symptoms with activity: Engaging in activities that involve repetitive movements, lifting heavy objects, or prolonged sitting can worsen the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease. Pain and discomfort may increase during or after these activities.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Degenerative Disc Disease?

The right time to see a physiotherapist for Degenerative Disc Disease is usually when you start experiencing persistent pain, limited mobility, or other symptoms that affect your daily activities and quality of life. It's important to listen to your body and seek professional help when conservative self-care measures, such as rest, gentle exercises, or over-the-counter pain medications, are not providing sufficient relief.

If you notice ongoing neck or back pain, stiffness, muscle weakness, or radiating pain into the arms or legs, it may be a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional. They can evaluate your symptoms, perform a thorough examination, and determine the most appropriate course of action.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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Physiotherapist Brittany Pereira working with client at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic Mississauga
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