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What are some nonsurgical treatment options for degenerative disc disease in the lower back?

Degenerative disc disease is a common cause of lower back pain. In many cases, the symptoms flare up periodically but do not worsen over time. Some people find that nonsurgical therapy is all that they need to get through their painful episodes. The goal of conservative treatment is twofold: first, to help a patient feel better, and second, to help a patient remain as active as possible, which — in addition to allowing the patient to perform daily activities — can also facilitate recovery.

How degenerative disc disease can be managed without surgery

Many people find that a combination of conservative treatments is effective for controlling the symptoms of degenerative disc disease in the lower back. Some options include:

  • Physical activity. Regular exercise is usually the best way to promote healing and achieve lasting pain relief. A well-rounded workout program should include stretching, strengthening and low-impact aerobic exercises.
  • Smoking cessation. Tobacco use can interfere with blood circulation and healing, and has also been linked to chronic lower back pain.
  • Weight loss. Losing excess weight — even just a few pounds — can dramatically reduce the stress exerted on the lumbar spine, which supports most of the body’s weight.
  • Ergonomic improvements. Using proper lifting techniques, wearing supportive footwear and avoiding static postures for prolonged periods of time can help reduce pressure on the lower back.
  • Medications. Some widely used options include over-the-counter pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral steroids, prescription narcotics and muscle relaxants.
  • Chiropractic care. Spinal manipulation can help relieve pressure on compressed spinal nerves, enhance range of motion, promote blood flow, reduce muscle tension and stimulate the body to release endorphins, which serve as natural pain relievers.
  • Epidural injections. When injected directly into the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord, steroid medications can reduce painful inflammation in a targeted area.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). A TENS unit can deliver mild electrical pulses that override pain signals being sent from the brain to the lower back.
  • Ultrasound therapy. Through the generation of warmth, ultrasound can promote the circulation of blood and healing nutrients to the lower back.
  • Therapeutic massage. A low back massage can enhance blood flow, reduce muscle stiffness, increase range of motion and raise endorphin levels.

Over time, low back pain and other symptoms of degenerative disc disease may subside on their own. This can occur as damaged discs naturally become stiffer and less flexible with age, which in turn can reduce pain. However, this process takes place very gradually over the course of several years.

Surgical treatment for degenerative disc disease

If you’re experiencing severe or persistent lower back pain caused by degenerative disc disease, USA Spine Care may be able to help. Contact us to request a no-cost MRI review.* We can help you determine if you are a candidate and also tell you about the benefits of our minimally invasive outpatient surgery.

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