Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is part of the normal process of aging. Those diagnosed with symptoms related to DDD should begin treatment conservatively. Physical therapy (PT) is one of the mainstays of conservative treatment. Physical therapy works at several levels. First, it strengthens the muscles, making them more capable of assuming some of the workload usually performed by discs. Secondly, physical therapy increases local blood circulation to damaged tissue. More oxygen and nutrients arrive at the site of injury and are available for repair. Third, physical therapy increases flexibility, making re-injury less likely.
The discs located between our vertebrae act like pillow cushions, softening the blow from a lifetime of complex motions like twisting, turning, bending and lifting. With age, intervertebral discs naturally degenerate, resulting in decreased flexibility and increased susceptibility to injury. Precisely how does age cause degeneration? Medical research has found the following: According to the U. S. National Institutes of Health, at birth the human body contains 90 percent water, at adulthood it contains 70 percent water and by age 90 it contains about 50 percent water. Additionally, the composition of elastin, the protein which gives tissues the ability to stretch, chemically changes. With age, elastin undergoes chemical cross-linking. This decreases the ability to stretch. With aging, bodies desiccate and become less stretchable. These two facts explain disc degeneration. Discs have two main components, an outer fibro-elastic containment rim and an inner soft gelatinous core. When axial loading pressure occurs along the spinal column, the central gelatinous core of the disc squeezes outward against the fibro-elastic containment rim of the disc. The elastic recoil of the containment wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, re-establishing the height and shape of the disc. As a person ages, natural daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc. Small tears may develop in the fibers of the fibro-elastic outer containment wall. This causes some loss of the disc’s outer containment wall elasticity or recoil. The outer disc containment wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer containment wall sags, and the disc bulges or collapses. The disc may even herniate. To learn more about this condition, visit both our cervical degenerative disc disease and lumbar degenerative disc disease pages.
Physical therapy for degenerative disc disease will not only help you manage your pain, it will also improve your strength, range of motion and flexibility. Along with learning proper posture and lifting techniques, therapeutic treatments typically involve:
- The use of hot and cold packs
- Deep tissue massage
- Spinal traction
- Muscle strengthening workouts, like yoga
- Wall pushups and exercise ball stretches
- No impact or low impact aerobic activities including swimming, walking and biking
In some cases, patients may not respond to conservative treatment and surgery is prescribed. It is reasonable to determine the least invasive surgical treatment possible. Please investigate the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. We perform effective procedures that have shorter recuperation periods and lower risk than traditional open spine surgery of all types. Contact us today for a review of your MRI or CT scan, and to receive more information about our facilities.