Since degenerative disc disease is a condition that progresses with age, prevention may seem impossible, or not worth the effort. We cannot turn back the hands of time. However, just as with cardiovascular disease, a healthy lifestyle may significantly delay its development. A healthy lifestyle can improve your quality of life starting immediately and save you years of pain and treatments.
What is degenerative disc disease?
With age, spinal discs naturally degenerate, resulting in decreased flexibility and increased susceptibility to injury. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, at birth, the human body is made up of 90 percent water. At adulthood, it is made up of 70 percent water. By age 90, it is made up of about 50 percent water. Therefore, as we age, our discs dehydrate and become more brittle and fragile. Additionally, the composition of elastin, the protein that gives tissues the ability to stretch, chemically changes as we age and decreases the ability for elastin to stretch.
Discs have two main components, a tough outer layer and an inner soft gelatinous core. When pressure occurs along the spinal column, the core pushes outward against the wall of the disc. The elastic recoil of the wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, reestablishing the height and shape of the disc. As we grow older, natural daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc. Small tears may develop in the fibers of the tough outer layer. This tearing causes some loss of the disc’s elasticity or recoil. The outer wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer layer sags, and is said to bulge or collapse. The disc may even herniate — when the soft center of a spinal disc pushes through a crack in the tougher exterior casing.
Behavior modification for degenerative disc disease prevention
There are several methods for reducing the physical demands placed on the spine. Reduced demands will decrease the wear and tear of your discs.
- At work — always maintain proper posture; keep your spine straight and your shoulders back. Make sure your desk chair has proper lower back (lumbar) support. Take frequent breaks to walk and stretch.
- At home — never move objects that are too heavy. When sitting on a couch or in a recliner, keep your spine in a neutral position. Always make sure your neck and lower back are supported.
- While you sleep — get a medium-firm mattress and a pillow with cervical support. Make an effort to sleep on your back, but if you must sleep on your side, put a pillow between your knees to make sure your spine doesn’t “collapse” into the curve of your body
Treatments for degenerative disc disease
When degenerative disc disease develops, there are many effective nonsurgical treatments for symptom management. Physical therapy, chiropractic work, low-impact exercise, pain medication and yoga are all excellent treatments for relieving pain. It’s important that you receive a proper diagnosis and consult with your physician before starting any treatment method.
In some cases, patients may not respond to conservative treatment, and surgery is prescribed. If conservative treatments have failed to relieve your pain and symptoms from degenerative disc disease and your physician has recommended surgery, you should find the least invasive successful surgical treatment possible. Currently, the least invasive form of spine surgery is minimally invasive spine surgery, such as the procedures performed at USA Spine Care, to treat degenerative spine conditions. USA Spine Care offers minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures with shorter recovery periods^ and lower infection risks than traditional open spine surgery. Contact us today for a review of your MRI report or CT scan and to receive more information about our outpatient procedures.
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