What is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)?
Degenerative Disc Disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the process in which the space between the vertebrae decreases. This can be a result of the natural aging process or injury. The spine consists of soft compressible discs that separate your vertebrae. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend, and twist. Degenerative disc disease can take place throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region) causing pain, stiffness, loss of motion and limited daily function. 85% of the population will show evidence of disc degeneration by the age of fifty and 75% will experience back/neck pain at some point in their lifetime. The majority of these cases can be resolved with physical therapy.
Causes of DDD
- Aging is the most common cause of disc degeneration.
- As the body ages, the discs in the spine dehydrate or dry out, losing their ability to act as shock absorbers between the vertebral bodies.
- Risk factors include smoking, obesity, inactive lifestyle and heavy manual labor.
- Activities such as lifting, shoveling, bending or trauma such as being involved in a motor vehicle accident can lead to disc injury.
Symptoms of DDD
With symptomatic degenerative disc disease, back pain sometimes radiates to the hips, or there is aching pain in the buttocks or thighs while walking; tingling or weakness in the legs or feet may also be evident. Sitting, lifting and twisting may cause or increase pain and other symptoms. Degenerative changes in the neck can produce similar symptoms in the shoulder, arm or hands.
Physical Therapy Treatment of DDD
- Stretching and flexibility exercises to improve mobility
- Strengthening the muscles of the spine and extremities
- Pain control may include ice/heat, electrical stimulation or possible use of traction
- Manual therapy
- Proper training in ergonomics and biomechanics to return to function