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Degenerative Disc Disease

What is Degenerative Disc Disease

One of the most common causes of low back pain and neck pain is degenerative disc disease or as practitioners routinely call is DDD for short. DDD and also one of the most misunderstood conditions because degenerative disc disease is not really a disease at all, but rather a degenerative condition that at times can produce pain from a damaged disc.

Degenerative disc disease can be a cause of “radiating” symptoms, meaning numbness or pain that travels down our extremities (arms and legs). A diagnosis of DDD can be very alarming to patients, because it sounds like a progressive disease. In all actuality, its not really a disease, more of a normal process of aging.  Now this process can explain a lot of the patient’s symptoms, which we will discuss more in dept below.

Generally, the pain associated with degenerative disc disease is thought to stem from two main factors:

  1. The inflammatory process
    The proteins contained within the disc space can cause a lot of inflammation, and as a general rule inflammation will cause pain.

      • In the lumbar spine, the low back pain can radiate into the hips due to the inflammation around the nerves that travel down to our hip and leg. The associated pain can also travel down the back of the leg (also called sciatica, or radiculopathy), and possibly into the foot and toes.
      • In the cervical spine, the neck pain may be local or may radiate into the arm, shoulder and possibly into the hand (a cervical radiculopathy).

  2. Abnormal motion
    If the annulus which is the outer rings of the disc, degenerates and wears down, it is not as effective in resisting motion in the spine. Joints that don’t move properly, tend to wear down a lot faster than joints that articulate normally.

Both the inflammation and abnormal motion can cause lower back or neck muscle spasms. The muscle spasm is the body’s attempt to stabilize the spine. It is a reflex, and although the body’s response of muscle spasm is not necessary for the safety of the nerve roots, it can be quite painful.

The muscle spasms associated with the instability are thought to cause the flare-ups of intense pain often associated with degenerative disc disease.

How to treat Degenerative Disc Disease

The goal of chiropractic care for DDD is to improve joint mechanics by improving spinal motion and reducing inflammation. Dr. Gibson will work on improving the function of the intervertebral discs, which has been shown to help prevent further degenerative changes.

To help treat your DDD symptoms, Dr. Gibson at RTP Chiropractic in Morrisville, will use spinal manipulation. There are multiple types of spinal manipulation. Some common ones are:

  • specific spinal manipulation: Dr. Gibson will identify the joints that are restricted or those that show abnormal motion. He will work to restore movement to the joints using a gentle thrusting technique.
  • flexion-distraction technique: This type of spinal manipulation uses a gentle, non-thrusting technique; it’s typically used to treat herniated discs and spinal stenosis.
  • instrument-assisted soft tissue manipulation: This technique uses a hand-held instrument called a graston tool. Dr. Gibson applies gentle force without thrusting directly into the spine.

Manual therapy may also be used to help treat DDD symptoms. Examples of manual therapy techniques are:

  • trigger point therapy: The chiropractor identifies tight painful points on a muscle and puts direct pressure on these points to relieve tension.
  • manual joint stretching and resistance techniques: Your chiropractor may use one of these techniques to relieve pain and other DDD symptoms.
  • therapeutic massage: Massage can help reduce muscle tension.
  • instrument-assisted soft tissue therapy: An example of this type of manual therapy is the Graston technique, which uses an instrument to reduce pain and other symptoms.

In addition to spinal manipulation and manual therapy techniques, Dr. Gibson may use other types of therapies called physiotherapies to help reduce inflammation caused by DDD.

  • interferential electrical stimulation: A low frequency electrical current is used to stimulate your muscles to reduce inflammation.
  • ultrasound: Ultrasound can help reduce muscle spasms, stiffness, and pain by sending sound waves deep into your muscle tissues. This creates a gentle heat that enhances circulation.

Dr. Gibson at RTP Chiropractic in Morrisville NC has treated many patients that experience neck pain and back pain due to degenerative disc disease. The main goal is to relieve the pain associated with the DDD. The next goal is to retrain the muscles and joints in the neck to function the way they were designed too. This can take sometime but with the proper stretches and treatment, this issue can usually be resolved in a few weeks.

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