Degenerative Disc Disease and Disability

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a term used to describe the condition in which the soft discs that separate interlocking bones in your spine begin to wear down and deteriorate. This condition affects everyone with age, but can sometimes cause severe pain. Symptoms most often occur in the neck or lower back, and can also stretch to the arms and hips. Since the spinal discs are what allow you to bend and twist your back and neck, with degenerative disc disease these actions will cause an increase in pain.

 

The appearance of pain from this condition is due to the loss of padding between bones when the discs are torn or thinned out. Where the pain most persists will depend on the location of the affected discs. If in the lower back, you may experience pain in the back or leg. If in the neck, pain may be found in the neck or arm. Sometimes, tingling or numbness in the limbs is a sign of this disorder as well. Generally, pain is most experienced in the thighs and buttocks while moving about, often accompanied by weakness in the knees.

Many people are not negatively affected by this condition, while for others it creates a constant pain that affects their ability to perform everyday activities.

What are some ways besides surgery to deal with degenerative disc disease?

To help deal with pain from degenerative disc disease, you can try:

  • bed rest (just a few days);
  • restricting your activities that increase the pain
  • light exercise (walking, swimming, etc) as recommended by your doctor
  • over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatory medication such as Tylenol or ibuprofen; and
  • prescription medications.

You may also considers seeing a pain management doctor.

Pain Relief With a Pain Management Doctor

Your therapy plan with a pain management doctor will be tailored to your individual needs, circumstances, and preferences. Depending upon the cause of your pain, treatments may include one or more of the following:

Medications

This is usually the first course of treatment before other forms of therapy. Medications for pain may include:

  • Non-aspirin pain relievers. These medications, which include acetaminophen (Tylenol), relieve minor pain and may be combined with other drugs to provide greater pain relief.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs are used to treat pain and inflammation and are available over the counter or by prescription. They include ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).
  • Corticosteroids. These are available only by a prescription. These drugs are like cortisone and are used for more severe inflammatory conditions.
  • Opioid pain medications. These drugs are like morphine and are often prescribed short term for acute pain or for cancer pain. Doctors will occasionally prescribe them for chronic, non-cancer pain.
  • Antidepressants . Although originally designed to treat depression, antidepressants can be useful for relieving certain types of pain, and may promote sleep, which can be difficult when in pain.

Medications alone often are not enough to treat chronic pain. Other treatments may work even better than medications, and medication may be more effective when combined with other treatments. Other treatments provided by pain centers may include:

  • Injections. Local anesthetics, which sometimes may be combined with a corticosteroid, are injected by needle around nerve roots or directly into muscles and joints to relieve irritation, swelling, and muscle spasms.
  • Nerve blocks. Injections with local anesthetics may block the pain in a group of nerves, called a ganglion or plexus, in a specific organ or body region.
  • Physical and aquatic therapy. A physiatrist, which is a doctor specializing in rehabilitation medicine, or a physical therapist may prescribe a specially tailored exercise program to increase bodily function and decrease pain. Other physical therapy options at a pain management clinic may include ultrasound, whirlpool therapy, and deep-muscle massage.
  • Electrical stimulation. A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit is the most common form of electrical stimulation used in pain management. A TENS unit uses a small, battery-operated device to stimulate nerve fibers in the spine through the skin.
  • Acupuncture . This is an ancient Chinese practice which involves inserting very thin needles at specific points on the skin to relieve pain.
  • Psychological support and counseling. Although pain is a physical condition, many people who suffer pain experience emotional feelings of depression, sadness, anger, and hopelessness. Dealing with constant and unrelenting pain can affect your ability to perform a job, hold a job, maintain a home, meet family obligations, and socialize with friends and family members. Psychological support, in addition to medical treatment, can help you manage your pain condition.
  • Relaxation techniques. In addition to counseling, mental health professionals can teach you self-help techniques to use at home, such as relaxation techniques or biofeedback to help you reduce stress and relieve pain.
  • Surgery. Although surgery is sometimes necessary to return function or relieve a problem that is causing pain, it is usually reserved as a treatment of last resort. If your pain has not responded to any other treatment modality, surgery on certain nerves may provide relief and allow you to resume your normal daily activities.

Will You Need Surgery?

Many degenerative disc disease patients respond well to non-surgical treatments. However, some patients do rquire surgery. Surgery should be considered only after you’ve tried several months of conservative, non-surgical treatment. Your surgeon will recommend the best surgery for your individual situation. Here are some common kinds of types of surgery performed on patients with DDD:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF);
  • Foraminotomy; and
  • Microdiscectomy.

If you have degenerative disc disease and are suffering physically and financially as a result, you may be eligible for long term disability benefits or Social Security disability benefits. If you would like more information about how to apply for disability, or if you have been denied benefits and would like to appeal, call Mr. Ortiz at 850-308-7833 for assistance.