Degenerative Disc Disease
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Spinal discs are the shock absorbers of our body. They are present between the bones of our spine and help them stay flexible so we can bend and twist our bodies with ease.
As we grow older, our spine’s discs undergo wear and tear because they experience a lot of stress.
So, these discs begin to break down and stop working correctly. Although termed Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD), it’s a natural age-related condition that causes wear and tear of discs over time.
Most times, Degenerative Disc Disease symptoms aren’t severe and can be treated through non-surgical methods.
What causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
Spinal discs have a hard outer core and a soft inner shell. With time, these discs change and cause trouble. Here are some factors that cause Degenerative Disc Disease.
Dry out: When we’re kids, the discs between the spine contain a lot of water and are able to absorb a lot of shocks.
However, as we grow up, the discs lose the capacity to retain water and can’t absorb shocks anymore. This can lead to Degenerative Disc Disease.
Cracks: The stress of everyday movement may cause cracks in the disc’s outer wall. This might cause the disc to slip out of place. This is called a herniated disc.
What are the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease include pain in the back and neck. The exact location of the pain will depend on where the weak disc is located.
Other common symptoms include severe pain in the thighs and buttocks that worsens when you sit or change positions.
How is Degenerative Disc Disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will prescribe you medications like Aspirin and Ibuprofen to help with the pain and inflammation. You’ll also be asked to work with a physiotherapist if the pain is too severe.
And if nothing works, surgery is always an option.
What is Herniated Disc?
Our spinal column is made of bones stacked on top of each other. Discs cushion these bones.
These discs are soft in the center and are surrounded by a tough layer called an annulus. They act as shock absorbers for the spinal column and help prevent it from injuries while walking, running, twisting, etc.
When a portion of the disc tears and bulges out, it hits the spinal canal and causes excruciating pain. This is called a herniated disc.
Herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spinal column. But herniated discs are more common in the lower (lumbar) spine region than the upper (cervical) spine region near the neck.
Who is affected by Herniated Discs?
Our discs tend to degenerate as we age and a minor strain in the area may cause a herniated disc.
But here are other risk factors that may cause a herniated disc
- Excess weight causes more strain on the spinal column and leads to a herniated disc.
- Physically demanding occupations that involve heavy-lifting
- Genetics and Family History. You’re more likely to get a herniated disc if someone in your family already has/had it.
- Smoking leads to reduced oxygen supply to your discs, thereby making them weak.
What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?
- Pain on one side of the body
- Pain that extends to your arms and legs
- Tiredness, aches, and burning sensations in the affected area
- Cannot walk a short distance without extreme pain.
How is herniated disc diagnosed?
Apart from a physical examination to check your nerve strength, your doctor will also ask for imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and Discograms.
How can a herniated disc be treated?
Treatments for herniated discs depend on the extent to which the disc has bulged out into the spinal canal.
Your doctor might recommend nerve pain medications and muscle relaxants if you don’t require surgery.
They’ll also ask you to take part in physical activities to strengthen your back muscles. If none of these solutions work, your doctor will advise you to undergo a surgery.
What is an Sciatica?
Sciatica is a nerve pain that occurs in the buttocks/lower back area because of an injury, pointed growth in bones (osteophytes), or herniated discs in the spinal cord.
Sciatica affects more than 10 million Indians in a year. It is characterized by sharp jolts and stabbing pains in the back.
Patients with sciatica report feeling more pain in the legs as compared to the lower back. It can also cause muscle weakness and tingling sensations in the legs.
Since sciatica is caused due to many different factors, the pain may or may not develop gradually.
Who gets affected by Sciatica?
Sciatica is common but here are the risk factors for developing nerve pain in your lower back:
- Injury to the lower back.
- As you age, your risk for sciatica increases because of changes in your bones.
- Excessive body weight. Your spinal column supports your body, and if you’re overweight, it strains your back and increases the risk of developing sciatica.
- Don’t have strong core muscles (muscles in the back and abdomen).
- Lack of proper form while exercising. There is an increased risk of sciatica if you don’t follow appropriate forms and poses while doing strength training exercises.
- Diabetes increases the risk of nerve damage and your risk for sciatica.
- Smoking. The nicotine present in the tobacco causes degeneration of spinal tissues and breaks down the bones easily.
What are the symptoms of Sciatica?
The symptoms of sciatica include:
- Sharp Pain that originates in the buttocks and spreads up to the thigh.
- Numbness and tingling in the lower back area
- Pain feels worse while standing up, sitting down, lying down, walking, etc.
How is Sciatica Diagnosed?
- Herniated Disc
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Inflammation and spasming in lumbar (lower back) pelvic muscles
- Spinal Tumor
Your doctor will conduct physical examinations and imaging tests to determine the cause of sciatic pain
How is sciatica treated?
- Physical therapy
The nerve pain should settle in about two months but it may take longer depending on the condition that causes sciatica.
What is a Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. A normal person’s spine has a curve on the upper portion and the lower portion. But a person with scoliosis has a C-shaped or an S-shaped spine.
Scoliosis is of three types:
Functional: This type of scoliosis is caused due to an abnormality in the body. It could be caused when one leg is shorter than the other or when weight is distributed unevenly.
Neuromuscular: This type of scoliosis is caused during birth when the bones fail to form properly during foetal development.
Degenerative Scoliosis: This condition occurs in adults as opposed to the other types of scoliosis that are more common in kids yet to reach puberty.
Who are most likely to be affected by scoliosis?
The risk factors for scoliosis include:
Age: Kids that are just undergoing a growth spurt during puberty are more prone to scoliosis
Sex: Girls are more prone to developing scoliosis than boys
Family History: It is possible that kids with scoliosis have a family history of the condition.
- Being underweight
- Not ingesting enough calcium and vitamin D
- Having a history of osteoporosis (a disease caused due to porous bones)
- Not engaging in enough physical activity and sticking to a sedentary lifestyle
- Drinking excessive alcohol
What are the symptoms of Scoliosis?
Symptoms of scoliosis include:
Uneven shoulder height: One shoulder blade is higher than the other
Rotating spine: The spinal cord is rotated about its axis and also bends to its side.
Breathing problems: If the scoliosis is severe, then it may cause breathing problems because the spine starts taking up space that is required for the lungs to expand while breathing.
Scoliosis can cause complications like damaged heart and lungs. Too much curvature in the spine can cause it to press against the heart and lungs.
How is a Scoliosis diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you to stand up with arms at your sides so that he can observe the curvature of the spine. They’ll check if the shoulders and waist are symmetrical.
They might also ask you to undergo medical imaging tests like X-rays, MRI, CT scan, and bone scan to check for scoliosis
How is a Scoliosis treated?
Scoliosis can be treated through braces or surgery depending on the extent of curvature of the spine.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Our spinal column is made up of bones stacked on each other and acts as the central axis of the skeleton. Spinal nerves run through the openings in this column and are responsible for sending signals to the brain.
Spinal stenosis is caused when the spinal column gets compressed and starts putting pressure on the surrounding nerves. This is mostly caused due to natural wear and tear that comes with age.
Spinal stenosis may or may not cause pain and tingling sensations in the body.
There are two different kinds of spinal stenosis:
Cervical stenosis is caused when the narrowing of the spinal column takes place in the neck region.
Lumbar stenosis is caused when the narrowing of the spinal column takes place in the lower back region.
Who are most likely to be affected by spinal stenosis?
As we age, our tissues stiffen and our bones may grow in size and start compressing the spinal nerves. Apart from this, people who suffer from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are also more likely to develop this condition.
Other causes for spinal stenosis include:
- Naturally narrow spinal cord or spinal defects at birth
- Scoliosis or a curvature in the spine
- Bone tumours
- Paget’s disease that causes abnormal destruction and regrowth of bones
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?
The symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
- Weakness in the arms and legs
- Pain in the lower back while standing or walking
- Numbness or tingling feeling in the leg and buttocks
- Problems with balancing the body
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
Your doctor will observe your movements during a physical exam and ask you questions to determine if you have spinal stenosis.
They will also ask you for imaging tests like X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, electromyogram, and bone scans to check for any damage or abnormal growth in your spine
How is spinal stenosis treated?
Your doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatories and physical therapy to treat the inflammation. But if the patient is undergoing severe pain, surgeries like spinal fusion and laminectomy are viable options.
What is Spondylolisthesis?
Our spinal column is made of a set of bones stacked on each other. Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra (vertebral bone) slips forward over the vertebrae below it.
The spinal column carries most of our weight and distributes it to different parts while we lift weights, rest, or perform physical activities.
It rotates, bends, and twists in different directions constantly and this might cause one of the bones to slip forward over the vertebra below it. This is called spondylolisthesis.
Physical activity isn’t the only cause for spondylolisthesis. There are different types of spondylolisthesis like:
Congenital spondylolisthesis: The person is born with a spinal defect.
Isthmic spondylolisthesis: Another condition called spondylolysis causes this type of spondylolisthesis. A thin crack or fracture causes the vertebrae to slip forward, backward or over a bone.
Degenerative spondylolisthesis: This is caused when the discs between the vertebrae are dehydrated and cause the discs to slip forward.
Vertebral Compression Fracture
What is Vertebral Compression Fracture?
A Vertebral Compression Fracture takes place when a bone in the spinal column is compressed from 15%-20%.
A compression fracture causes loss of height and back pain. It mostly occurs in the mid portion of the spine.
A Vertebral Compression Fracture is mostly caused due to osteoporosis. It is a condition that causes the bones to become weak, porous, and lose the density.
As a result, the bones can break when the person just sneezes or lifts up grocery bags.
Other reasons for acquiring a Vertebral Compression Fracture are falls, accidents, and attempts to lift heavy objects.
The risks of acquiring a Vertebral Compression Fracture increase with age.
Who are at risk for a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
People who are more than 55 years have a great risk of developing a Vertebral Compression Fracture.
People who are less than 55 years have a risk of developing a Vertebral Compression fracture if they are suffering from a metastatic tumors.
Many different kinds of tumors usually spread to the vertebrae and cause the bones to weaken and collapse.
Elderly people with osteoporosis also run the risk of developing a vertebral compression fracture.
What are the symptoms of a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
You might have a Vertebral Compression Fracture if you have the following symptoms:
- Sudden back pain
- Increase in back pain when you walk or get up
- Cannot move the spine much
- A loss in height because of compression in the bones
- Deformity and disability
How is a Vertebral Compression Fracture Diagnosed?
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and also ask you to take some imaging tests to determine whether you have a Vertebral Fracture or not.
Imaging tests include radiographs of the entire spine, CT scans, and MRI scans.
How is a Vertebral Compression Fracture treated?
Your doctor will ask you to rest until the pain becomes tolerable. You’ll then be asked to do some mild physical activity to keep your bones and muscles from losing both mass and strength.
Your doctor will also prescribe anti-inflammatories to get rid of the pain. You should be able to move without pain in 3 months.