If you feel pain in your neck or lower back, the cause could be degenerative disc disease (DDD). While it is a common disease affecting the spine, DDD is among the most misunderstood health conditions. It begins when the spinal discs start to wear and tear and in some cases, DDD can lead to radicular pain and other symptoms. So it is important to get in touch with some of the top pain doctors NJ if your neck or lower back is aching a lot. It is even more important to meet an NY spine and pain doctor in your area if the hot, shooting pain in legs or arms is accompanied by symptoms like numbness and weakness.
One thing to note is that degenerative disc disease does not always cause hot and shooting pain in legs or arms—radicular pain. Usually, it is associated with low-key chronic pain that will occasionally worsen. To learn whether you have DDD in your lumbar spine or cervical spine area, look for a pain management doctors in my area online. As these areas strain and move more than your thoracic spine (mid-back and upper back area), they are more susceptible to DDD.
Why is it called a degenerative disease?
The word degenerative implies that the condition will only worsen as the victim gets older. In short, the process through which discs wear away will keep on going on. Natural degeneration of discs due to aging cannot be avoided and as it happens, it will lead to pain and instability. It is even likely that one would suffer from numbness and weakness, in addition to pain. As it is super common, it is easy to think that the condition can lead to long-term disability. The truth is that DDD does not have to cause disability; as if it is discovered early, pain doctors NJ have several ways to manage it. One of these ways can be surgery, but it will obviously be the last resort. Pain triggered by worsening disc degeneration process does not necessarily worsen overtime. It can even improve greatly if the best NY spine and pain specialists are consulted.
Who is likely to see pain management doctors in my area?
One thing you can be sure of is that as you age, your spinal disc will exhibit certain changes that will need to be examined by a NY spine and pain expert. These changes will be caused by disc degeneration process, which is a natural part of growing older. While the condition will not always cause symptoms when developing, it affects people differently. So there are patients who will be severely affected and others who will only suffer intermittent discomfort. Men and women are likely to meet one of the top pain doctors NJ because of disc pain triggered by age-related wear and tear.
What are the risks of having DDD?
While DDD causes discomfort on and off, it makes you prone to certain risks. These include the following:
- Spinal stenosis – Due to narrowing of the spinal canal, nerve roots within it get trapped and pinched. This causes back pain that may radiate to your extremities— legs or arms. Where the pain will shift to will depend on the pinched nerve root and whether it is designed to serve your arm or leg. Your NY spine and pain doctor will be able to run various tests to confirm whether you have stenosis of the spine. Lumbar stenosis is rather common.
- Osteoarthritis – Spinal osteoarthritis is a painful health condition that affects the facet joints located at the back of your spine. It leads to pain and inflammation. Osteoarthritis of the spine is controllable with certain medicines and non-surgical techniques.
- Spondylolisthesis – When osteoarthritis affects your face joints, another problem called spondylolisthesis emerges. It is when a vertebral bone slides forward over another one.
- Scoliosis – While it mostly affects children, scoliosis is also seen in adults who have damaged discs due to the degeneration process. Scoliosis causes the spine to curve in an uneven manner and this is painful. So it is necessary to look for the most reputable pain doctors NJ and have them treat your curved back.
Unless the degenerating disc affects another structure close by, including a nerve root, it may not hurt. But, the type of pain associated with disc degeneration mainly involves two things: odd micro-motion instability and inflammation. As the disc’s outer layer or annulus fibrosis wears away, the cushioning and stability it offers reduces. For that reason, small and abnormal motions occur between the affected vertebrae. In due course, these micro movements will make spinal segment more unstable and this will cause episodes of severe pain. By seeing a renowned NY spine and pain doctor early, you can act before the affected segment of your spine becomes so affected.
Concerning inflammation, it happens when the disc space interior’s inflammatory proteins begin to leak outside. This occurs as the disc degeneration process continues and it results to swelling the nearby spinal structures. As a result of inflammation, you can experience certain changes: localized tenderness in your back or neck, muscle tension and/or muscle spasms. In case a nerve root is inflamed, you can expect to feel numbness and pain and these can shift into the arm and shoulder or your lower extremities (hips and leg). The help of pain doctors NJ will be so necessary at this point.
If discomfort is felt in the shoulder and arm, it is called cervical radiculopathy and it is because of a degenerating cervical spine disc. If it shifts to the hips and legs, this is known as lumbar radiculopathy and it is a sign that you have a degenerating lower back disc. Whether you have inflammation, micro-motion instability or both, there is a big chance that you can experience lumbar spine and cervical spine muscle spasms. These are generated in an attempt to re-stabilize the unstable area of your spine and are excruciating. According to pain doctors NJ, muscle spasms and tension are believed to start the severe bouts of pain associated with DDD.
How does DDD change the spine?
Degenerative disc disease begins in a spinal disc and later on affects the surrounding structures. It leads to disc space collapse and cartilaginous endplate erosion. Disc degeneration is a consistent process that will eventually make the disc space collapse. Due to this collapse, a lot of strain will be felt in the nearby muscles that support the spine. It will as well shorten the space located between the vertebrae and this will cause the micro-motion instability we afore-mentioned. The top NY spine and pain experts also encounter a condition called cartilaginous endplate erosion.
If you take the time to check the spinal anatomy, you will notice that every vertebral segment is a joint that consists of a cartilage. This cartilage layer (endplate) is situated amid each vertebral body and a spinal disc. It allows oxygen and nutrients to enter and leave the disc. As the disc degenerates, however, this endplate also begins to wear away, disrupting the normal flow of oxygen and nutrients. As this flow gets impaired, the disc degeneration process worsens leading to disc space collapse. If you end up having endplate cartilaginous erosion, disc space collapse and spinal instability, your back pain and other symptoms can be too severe to tolerate. Luckily, these problems can be discovered by a NY spine and pain specialist who has a good reputation and a lot of successful past treatments.
What are the symptoms of DDD and when to see the pain doctors NJ
If you have a disc degenerative disease, how would you know? This is a question that most of you would probably ask. The most popular sign of DDD is a low-level, consistent pain felt around the affected disc or discs. It may flare up occasionally and become so severe and disabling. If your spine is put under extreme stress during a sport or a physical activity, pain due DDD may erupt suddenly. Another thing to note is that pain episodes can last between a few days to numerous weeks prior to coming back to low-key levels of pain. It can even disappear totally for a short period of time. Other symptoms that are relatively common and should be examined by a NY spine and pain doctor include:
- Pain that goes up when certain activities, including heavy lifting, twisting or bending are being done.
- Due to spinal instability, you might feel like your back or neck lacks basic support and may feel inflexible, limiting normal movements.
- Muscle spasms and/or muscle tension. These are caused by spinal instability in areas with degenerating discs.
- There might be pain that shifts from your neck to the shoulder and/or arm or lower back pain that affects your hips, buttocks and/or legs. Tell your pain doctors NJ if you have radiculopathy(radiating pain) of the cervical spine or lumbar spine area so they can find out the real cause.
- You may feel worsening lower back pain if you sit down or stand up for hours or worsening neck pain if you keep looking down for a long period.
Sometimes pain felt due to DDD-related issues can improve. For instance, if you sit down on a reclining chair or decide to lie down with a pillow under your knees, the pain might reduce a bit. Additionally, pain can decrease when altering postures. For instance, you can take several breaks from sitting down or standing up to reduce lower back strain and pain. Walking frequently every day can also benefit your entire body health. If your cervical disc is affected, you can stretch the neck regularly and safely. Even if you can try to manage your DDD pain at home, it is important to have chronic pain investigated by a NY spine and pain expert. While the amount of chronic pain or baseline pain is rather variable among victims, it must be probed. Whether it is mild or severe, chronic pain is a sign that you have a problem that should be investigated. While rare, disabling chronic pain related to degenerative disc disease can happen to you and requires immediate medical intervention from the leading pain doctors NJ.
The first thing that the NY spine and pain expert will do is to take your medical history. By this we mean your current and past symptoms such as spinal pain, numbness, weakness and so on. The pain doctors NJ will seek to know when the pain begun, the area it affects, intensity, how often it happens and whether it affects your ability to walk or flex your joints. It will be nice to tell the doctor if you are unable to sleep because of pain, and whether there are activities or postures that worsen the pain.
Other than this, your pain doctors NJ will carry out a physical exam. He or she will palpate your spine to identify possible abnormalities. They might as well do a range of motion test and/or a reflex test. Finally, an imaging test will be done to see the areas affected by disc degeneration disease. An MRI scan will show disc dehydration, disc herniation and disc tears or cracks. If a disc is dehydrated, its MRI scan image will appear black or dark.
If you are feeling a lot of pain, it is easy to assume that you have a few damaged discs while you only have one. Additionally, severity of pain does not directly correlate to the level of disc damage. Hence, you can have severely worn out discs that do not produce a lot of pain or a disc with just mild degradation that are generating excruciating pain. Another point to note is that severe pain does not automatically make you a surgery candidate.
Treating degenerative disc disease via pain management doctors in my area
The goal that any NY spine and pain doctor has in mind when treating DDD is to minimize pain and keep it from flaring up. A combination of options is used to manage baseline pain, including lifestyle changes, exercise, physical therapy and pain killers. Ice and heat treatment is part of physical therapy and is known to be so helpful. An ice pack is applied to a hurting area of the spine and is able to reduce not only pain but also inflammation.
Using a heating paid or another source of warmth on tense muscles can cause relaxation and reduce spasms and tension associated with DDD pain. Pain medicines can also be bought from a pharmacy shop and may include either a pain killer like acetaminophen or an anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. These types of drugs will be able to control mild back or neck pain due to degenerative disc disease. When you encounter intense pain episodes, go to your pain doctors NJ so they can prescribe stronger painkillers: opioids, muscle relaxants and/or antidepressants.
Other than the abovementioned, your pain doctors NJ might put you through transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS units) therapy. In this one, a tiny gadget that transmits electrical signals through the body is used. The electric pulses are able to interrupt and reduce pain. A TENS unit device may be attached to the skin and be controlled by a remote that generates a wide range of frequencies for varying degrees of pain. Manual spinal manipulation is another way to treat back or neck pain due to degenerative disc disease. So you will need to ask your NY spine and pain doctor to recommend a great chiropractor in your area.