Health Tips & Articles

Living With Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease

by James D. Delsie, D.C.

 The spinal column is made up of individual bones called vertebra. The five vertebra of the low back region are referred to as lumbar vertebra. Between each of the vertebra of the lumbar spine there is an intervertebral disc. The disc is made up of an outer fibrous layer and a gelatinous center. The disc is composed mostly of water. The disc acts as a cushion between the vertebras and also allows motion to occur between the vertebral segments.

As we go along in life, the discs of the spine begin to degenerate. This is a natural wear and tear process that occurs with age. Although most people will develop some degree of degenerative disc disease as they age, not all people will have pain associated with it. Degenerative disc disease can also occur from injuries to the spine, such as falls, motor vehicle accidents, lifting injuries and other traumatic events.

As the discs degenerate, they become thinner and offer less protection between the vertebras. This is usually associated with a bony spurring of the vertebral bodies that is known as an osteophyte. These phenomena may lead to pain in the low back region. They may also inhibit motion between the vertebral segments, which may decrease flexibility of the spine.

When pain first develops, it is a good idea to take it easy for the first couple of days and avoid over-exertion. It is recommended to try to avoid repetitive bending, heavy lifting, and twisting as well as high impact exercises until you are feeling better.

Studies have shown that it is best to try to get back into your normal routine as soon as possible. Walking, gentle stretching, and yoga may also be helpful. Over the counter non- steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil), may also be helpful for the treatment of the pain and stiffness associated with degenerative disc disease.

In more severe cases, the nerves in the low back may be compressed, which may cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs. If symptoms like this develop, if your pain persists for more than a week, or if your pain becomes more severe, you should consult your healthcare professional. Additional treatment recommendations may include prescription medication, chiropractic care, physical therapy, or acupuncture.

One final thought: we all know that being overweight and using tobacco products are not good for your overall health. Smokers and obese people also have a higher incidence of degenerative disc disease. Avoiding degenerative disc disease, then, should serve as another reason for making these healthier life choices.

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