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Can degenerative disc disease cause a fall?

The most common effect of degenerative disc disease is lower back pain. Often, the pain worsens with bending, twisting, lifting or sitting, which exerts a significantly higher weight load on the spine than standing. Some people also experience numbness, reflex loss and tingling sensations that run from the lower back and buttocks down through the legs and feet.

Degenerative disc disease itself does not cause falling. However, it may cause chronic pain. Through extensive research, scientists have linked chronic pain to an increased likelihood of falling, particularly in older adults.

How does chronic back pain increase the risk of falling?

Chronic pain can contribute to muscle weakness, functional decline and mobility limitations, all of which can predispose individuals with degenerative disc disease to sudden falls. For instance, many people have reported having these or similar experiences while dealing with pain associated with a damaged spinal disc:

  • “As I took a step forward, I suddenly felt as if my leg wasn’t there.”
  • “While I was walking, I felt as if I was being abruptly thrown backward.”
  • “As I fell forward or backward, my normal protective reflexes to break the fall didn’t kick in.”

In many cases, falls without warning (and without any precipitating environmental factors) are erroneously blamed on “clumsiness,” “medications” or “old age.” However, researchers now believe that chronic pain — such as that caused by degenerative disc disease — is more likely to be the true cause.

Interestingly, studies show that medications are not a major contributor to the increased risk of falling in people with chronic pain. In fact, the opposite is true: Pain-relieving medications can actually help prevent falls by reducing pain.

The surgeons at USA Spine Care

If you are experiencing chronic pain and you were advised to see an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon for degenerative disc disease treatment, you are welcome to contact USA Spine Care. Our team can provide a free MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^

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