Millions of Americans suffer from severe back and neck pain as a result Degenerative Disc Disease. DDD as it is often referred to in the literature is not really a “disease” in the common sense of the word, but rather a term used to describe a process or condition that develops gradually and worsens over time. Use of this term indicates that the cartilage-like discs between the spinal vertebral joints are the primary cause of the symptoms, and that the degenerative changes are rather advanced. To some degree intervertebral discs lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock absorbing characteristics as we age as do the other tissues in the body. Abnormal or excessive mechanical stresses or injuries of the past coupled with hereditary, developmental, and metabolic influences can rapidly accelerate this process.
As the involved disc dries out and loses height (a process known as desiccation) it causes the vertebra to become closer together narrowing the channels through which the nerve roots pass. A dry, hard disc can absorb less shock and is thus more easily torn resulting in a greater likelihood of herniation or bulge further compressing or pinching the nerves. As the stress on the joint compounds and osteoarthritis begins to result, bone spurs (osteophytes) form and ligaments thicken (hypertrophy) gradually narrowing the nerve channels even further. These factors in various combinations and degrees of severity compromise the space in the nerve channels, a condition known as spinal stenosis (narrowing), and conspire to compress (pinch) the nerves.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
The most common symptom of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine is low back pain (lumbalgia). If the cervical spine is affected, the most common symptom is neck pain (cervicalgia). When degenerative disc disease causes compression of the cervical nerve roots there may be shoulder pain, arm pain, and pain in the hand/fingers (neuritis, neuralgia, radiculitis), and may be associated with numbness and tingling (paresthesia). When degenerative disc disease causes compression of the lumbar nerve roots there may be butt pain, hip pain, leg pain, and pain in the foot/toes. This often is accompanied by muscle weakness in either the arm or leg.
Spinal Decompression Treatment
In the past, a patient suffering from disc problems was usually given pain medications or injections, instructed to refrain from physical activities, referred for physical therapy, and when they weren’t progressing they were sent for spinal surgery or simply told to learn to live it. Since 2001 when the FDA finally approved non-surgical spinal decompression therapy, there is new hope for those who suffer from degenerative disc disease. Spinal Decompression Therapy is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment performed on a special, computer controlled table similar in some ways to an ordinary traction table. A single disc level is isolated and by utilizing specific traction and relaxation cycles throughout the treatment, along with proper positioning, negative pressure can actually be created within the disc. It works by gently separating the offending disc 5 to 7 millimeters creating negative pressure (or a vacuum) inside the disc to pull water, oxygen, and nutrients into the disc, thereby re-hydrating a degenerated disc and bringing in the nutrients needed to heal the torn fibers and halt the degenerative process. As the disc is re-hydrated the shock absorbing properties are restored and a normal life can be resumed.