The stiff, aching and often burning sensation in my lower spine started in my late twenties and ten years later, when I had my first MRI, it was clear that Degenerative Disc Disease was one of the root causes of my lower back pain.
It’s said that as many as 80% of healthy adults experience some sort of back pain between the ages of 30 and 50, however Degenerative Disc, the loss of fluid in the discs between each vertebrae are padding for the spinal column, and without them every step can send shockwaves through the spine, making healthy living a real challenge. Age, poor posture, and injury can weaken discs between vertebrae, causing tearing along the disc walls.
To treat DDD, many medical specialists first recommend conservative, non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy or chiropractic treatment in an effort to stretch the space between discs and relieve the pressure on surrounding nerves. Manual manipulations on a decompression table can lift and separate discs to ease the strain on the lower back and some doctors may also recommend non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the burning sensation that often builds up when there’s no separation between vertebrae caused by collapsed discs.
Surgical options to reduce the pain of DDD include:
Discectomy: the surgical removal of herniated disc material that presses on a nerve root or the spinal cord. The procedure involves removing the central portion of an intervertebral disc, the nucleus pulposus, which causes pain by stressing the spinal cord or radiating nerves.
Laminectomy: surgery that creates space by removing the lamina — the back part of the vertebra that covers your spinal canal. Also known as decompression surgery, laminectomy enlarges your spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
Spinal fusion: a neurosurgical or orthopedic surgical technique that joins two or more vertebrae. This procedure can be performed at any level in the spine (cervical, thoracic, or lumbar) and prevents any movement between the fused vertebrae.
Lumbar Total Disc Replacement: With artificial disc replacement, pain relief is brought about by removal of the painful disc and motion is maintained with the use of a prosthetic implant made of metal (with or without a plastic bearing surface). This is more similar in theory to the artificial hip, knee, and shoulder joints that orthopedic surgeons have been using for more that 35 years to maintain motion and relieve the pain of arthritic extremity joints. However, there is a significant difference in that only one of the three joints that are present at each vertebral level is being replaced, whereas a hip or knee joint the total joint is replaced.
In recent months, restorative types of treatment have emerged to repair damaged vertebrae discs.
Mesoblast Cell Therapy: All therapies for progressive, severe and debilitating pain due to degenerating intervertebral discs treat the symptoms of the disease, but are not disease-modifying and thus do not address the underlying cause of the disease. This type of treatment involves a single intra-discal injection of 6 million MPCs resulted in meaningful improvements in both pain and function that were durable for at least 36 month. For more information regarding this new therapy, please check out this link.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy: A clinical study of 49 patients who underwent intradiscal platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections for low back pain found significant improvements in pain and function through two years of follow-up. Dr. Gregory Lutz, Founder and Medical Director of the Regenerative SportsCare Institute, and Physiatrist-in-Chief Emeritus, Hospital for Special Surgery, presented the two-year results at the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation’s Annual Conference in Broomfield, Colorado last month.
It’s also worth mentioning that a recent publication in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that ‘patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis treated surgically showed substantially greater improvement in pain and function during a period of 2 years than patients treated nonsurgically’.
For simple, home-use products, Dr. Dan Perez outlines a few options and the advantages / disadvantages of each:
Here’s a video describing What Degenerative Disc Disease Is, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments