What is Lumbar Disk Degeneration?
Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease is arthritis in your lumbar spine, the low back. The same arthritic disease process due to the normal wear and tear of the ageing process that can affect your knees, can affect the joints in your spine as well. This is why the word ‘Disease’ in the name of the diagnosis is a bit misleading as this condition is generally a direct result of the ageing process. This can occur at any part of your spine from the neck to the low back. On the inside of the intervertebral discs is a gel-like substance that is very malleable and helpful with smooth movement and shock absorption. As we age, this gel-like substance of the intervertebral discs, called the nucleus pulposus, loses hydration and can lose height. This can make the disc more susceptible to tears and other injuries. This is the process of disc degeneration in the lumbar spine.
What Causes Lumbar Disk Degeneration?
The ultimate cause of Lumbar Disc Degeneration is the ageing process. The discs wear out over the course of many years of physical activity. The cause of pain from this condition is generally from the degeneration of discs affecting structures around them rather than the disc itself because the disc has little to no innervation. Innervation refers to nerve supply. Traumatic events and other systemic conditions may lead to a faster degeneration of discs than would be seen in a healthy individual. Some of the causes that can lead to a sped-up degeneration of a disc are:
- Trauma such as a car or motorcycle accident
- Previous injury to the spine
- Bone spur formation
- Other conditions such as spinal stenosis, Osteoarthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, and Spondylolisthesis
- Rheumatic diseases
- Physically demanding job
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What are Symptoms of Lumbar Disk Degeneration?
The symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease in the lumbar spine may be:
- Low back pain
- Loss of range of motion in the back
- Radiating pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the legs, feet, and toes if a degenerated disc is causing a nerve root in the spine to be pinched
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Treatments for Lumbar Disk Degeneration
Treatment for this condition rarely requires surgical intervention. Conservative measures are generally quite effective in managing this condition. These conservative treatments include:
- Physical therapy in order to strengthen surrounding musculature and teach the patient about proper posture and body mechanics
- Over the counter pain medications and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Treatment with steroids and prescription pain medication may be warranted if over the counter medication fails to relieve pain and inflammation
If attempted and the above conservative measures do not work to improve your symptoms, surgery may be indicated. One of the most common surgical techniques utilized for this condition is a discectomy, which is complete removal of the offending disc. The removed disc may be replaced with an artificial one. Another option that your surgeon may choose after the removal of a disc is to then fuse the vertebrae with the one on top of it, effectively eliminating that disc space.