Degenerative Disc Disease and Alternative Treatments

As we grow older, several changes occur throughout our bodies, including in the neck, back and spine. Intervertebral discs are natural shock absorbers between the bony vertebrae. 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, reestablishing 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 is said to bulge or collapse. If the tears in the outer wall are large, inner disc core material may extrude into the area surrounding the disc. This condition is a herniated disc.

Conservative treatment options

Trauma may rapidly disclose longstanding degenerative changes. Except in the case of trauma, degenerative changes usually occur gradually. They may cause localized discomfort in areas of mild inflammation, but this pain seldom requires a health professional’s intervention. If, however, a bulging or herniated disc compresses an adjacent nerve, symptoms may continue to progress and may become more severe. More severe symptoms precipitate a consult with a physician. Following a physician’s proper diagnosis, a conservative treatment regimen may be prescribed. A conservative, non-operative treatment may include any of the following:

  • Cutaneous stimulation – Also called hot/cold therapy. Alternating compresses of hot and cold can activate the healing process. Heat increases circulation, and cold reduces inflammation.
  • Exercise – Gentle, low-impact exercise helps patients maintain a healthy body weight and strengthen bones and muscles without putting too much pressure on the joints. Consult your physician about exercises like swimming, hiking, walking, step aerobics, exercise ball therapy, recumbent stationary bikes or elliptical trainers.
  • Medication – Pain medication can be found over the counter or obtained with a physician’s prescription. Medication for neck and back pain comes in a variety of forms, from oral analgesics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to lidocaine patches and injections of corticosteroids.
  • Alternative treatments –While not always accepted in the medical community, alternative treatments like chiropractic medicine, acupuncture and massage have helped some patients achieve temporary relief from pain.

Surgical options

Conservative and alternative treatments will help most degenerative disc disease patients achieve pain relief. However, some require more aggressive treatments, such as surgery. To find out more about the benefits of outpatient minimally invasive procedures for neck and/or back pain, contact Laser Spine Institute. We can also provide a review of your MRI or CT scan to ascertain whether you could be a candidate for our effective procedures.