What Is Degenerative Disc Disease In The Neck? What Are Its Causes? And What Are The Best Treatment Methods? Know Here in This Detailed Guide…
The term degenerative disc disease is used to explain the degeneration of one or multiple inter-vertebral discs in the spinal region. It is sometimes also called as degenerative disc disorder.
On a similar note, degenerative disc disease in the neck or cervical degenerative disc disease is a degeneration of spinal discs particularly present in the cervical region.
It is highly painful condition which can hinder the individual’s daily routine and life heavily.
Generally this disease is a geriatric problem which occurs in the late stages of life. In the present years it sometimes occurs even in the young adults without any known reasons.
It is important to note that if the disease is left untreated for long in its initial period then it may turn out to be complicated and chronic, which then becomes complex to cure.
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Diagnosis & Differential Diagnosis
Through the standard investigative procedures like X-ray, MRI, tissue biopsy & CSF analysis the cause as well as severity of degenerative disc disease in the neck can be identified very easily.
In case of cervical disc disease there will be presence of chondrocyte clusters, degenerative fibro cartilage, herniation of the inter-vertebral disc, splits in the annulus fibrosis, shrinkage of nucleus pulposus, etc.
Many times degenerative disc disease in neck and headaches is misunderstood with certain other diseases because of the resemblance of its signs and symptoms. These diseases may include: ankylosing spondylosis, cervical spondylosis, lumbar spondylosis, simple inter-vertebral disc bulge and prolapse, osteoarthritis of the cervical spine, etc.
Being wrongly diagnosed, degenerative disc disease neck treatment plan is also wrongly implemented by the physicians. Hence through a proper case history, examination and appropriate investigation the symptoms of degenerative disc disease should be identified carefully before planning an ideal treatment plan.
What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease In Neck?
Degenerative disc disease is usually a result of natural aging process. In case of geriatric origin, severe degenerative disc disease in neck is mainly because of over usage of the spinal vertebrae as well as maintenance of wrong posture for several years.
Due to over using and long term wrong postures, inter-vertebral disc cells start eroding gradually (even in young adults). This happens because of heavy stress applied on them.
This finally leads to partial (or even sometimes complete) degeneration of the inter-vertebral disc leading to contact or fusion of inter-vertebral bones. This degeneration of discs and spinal nerve compression is a major cause of long term neck pain.
As per sources during the birth, intervertebral discs are composed of 80% water in addition to collagen and proteins. This is an important fluid which controls sponginess of the discs to help absorb the shock experienced during day to day movements like while running, exercising, playing, etc.
With time and with age the amount of fluid present in the discs decreases. This results into the discs becoming stiff and rigid which increases the possibility of wearing and tearing of discs sooner or later. The process sometimes also causes flattening of discs which reduces the space between vertebrae over time.
Apart from geriatric, other major reasons which may cause degenerative disc disease in the neck are: road accidents, fall or hit injury over the spinal region, long term diabetes, diseases leading to infection and inflammation of the spinal cord and inter-vertebral disc like meningitis, etc.
It is good to know that the intense DDD pain in neck region may radiate to the back of the head, shoulders, upper back and arms. It may some times also lead to complete disability restricting the movements of various body parts, especially if left untreated or ignored for long.
These acute and chronic pain episodes may last from few weeks or few months. Getting a proper treatment at the right time is the best solution which can make your life healthy once again.
As soon as you see that the unbearable pain interferes with your daily activities, it’s time for you to see a doctor.
Symptoms Of Degenerative Disc Disease In The Neck
The symptoms of degenerative disc disease usually depends on quantity of distortion found in a bulging disc, degree of disc height loss in the degenerative process and the amount of herniated disc material in case of disc herniation process.
Mild painful symptoms of degenerative disc disease in neck may be accompanied with inflammation in cervical disc which can be easily treated by taking adequate rest.
DDD in neck usually does not cause intense pain but in some cases it shows moderate or severe painful symptoms which radiates to other body parts and thus require medical attention. Moderate and severe symptoms only occur when changes puts pressure upon the neural tissue.
When the intervertebral foramen through which spinal nerves travel becomes small, it is termed as loss of disc height. The traversing spinal nerve becomes trapped and tighter the entrapment, more severe the symptoms of DDD are. Even bulging disc or herniated disc material shortens the diameter of the central vertebral foramen in which the spinal cord lies.
Even in this case, greater the entrapment, stronger the symptoms become. Since the degenerative disc becomes unable to absorb higher amount of stress and fails to provide required support, some of the other parts of spine becomes overloaded which ultimately cause symptoms like fatigue, irritation, back pain, inflation and muscle spasms.
Signs And Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease In The Neck: A Short Glimpse
Based on above, some of the major signs and symptoms that are associated with degenerative disc disease in the neck are as follows:
- Unbearable shooting pain which sometimes radiates to the nearby areas where the compressed nerve is passing through
- Pain mostly felt (and sometimes increased) during movements like sitting, standing, turning, twisting, bending, etc.
- Loss of sensation and feeling of numbness in the localized areas
- Stiffness of the particular inter-vertebral joint
- Appearance of welling in the external cutaneous surface of the concerned affected inter-vertebral disc area
After carefully studying about the above symptoms, an affected person should rush to doctor for proper diagnosis of the condition, so that a doctor can prescribe them with the right type of treatment as soon as possible.
7 Best Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment Options
If you are one among those who are suffering from degenerative disc disease (DDD), you already know how painful it is to live with back and neck pain.
Fortunately there are many treatment options available for degenerative disc disease in neck which can help cure the problem naturally. These may include combination of exercises, medication and herbal therapies. It is important to note that treatments for degenerative disc disease in the neck can vary depending on the individual needs of a patient.
Some of the most common conservative and best degenerative disc disease in neck treatment options are as follows:
1. Few Days Of Bed Rest For Pain Relief
Though DDD develops gradually as you age, its impacts can be enhanced by spinal trauma. A health care provider may recommend few days of bed rest so that you can feel better relief from pain.
Since the pressure on spine and core muscles are reduced with few days bed rest this is one of the best natural ways by which you can relieve the pain from degenerative disc disease in neck in very initial stages.
While relaxing just lay your face-up on a firm mattress with a pillow laid under your knees. Bed rest is however limited to 1-3 days because lying on bed for long time can induce your back muscles to weak because of inactivity.
2. Low Impact Exercises And Physical Therapy
Adequate stretching along with the recommended exercises for degenerative disc disease, is most helpful in easing the DDD pain. As there are many cervical degenerative disc disease exercises to avoid, you should carefully choose an exercise program approved by your health care provider that can strengthen your spinal bones and muscles.
Regular exercises, besides relieving DDD pain, also helps to prevent losing of bone mass. To start with you can try regular walking and stretching. You can also do some aerobic exercises so that your body can release endorphins -natural pain relievers that help promote overall well-being.
Physical therapy for cervical degenerative disc disease is also suggested many times to diminish the stress on spine and to provide short-time relief from pain. This also helps in strengthening of core muscles that supports your spine, to keep further degeneration away.
Physical therapy for DDD also focuses on loosening of back and neck muscles to diminish tension, stiffness and spasms. It also improves the strength and flexibility of core muscles in order to keep the back and neck adequately supported.
3. Acupuncture and Other Alternative Treatments
Acupuncture therapy is a natural process which involves inserting of tiny needles into particular areas of the body in order to free the body’s energy force. According to the experts acupuncture must be practiced regularly for degenerative disc disease treatment.
The good news is, lots of patients who have already tried this treatment for relieving DDD symptoms have got varying levels of success. This treatment option is sometime recommended along with other forms of alternative treatment options like massage therapy, biofeedback and herbal therapies.
These treatment options may also include pool therapy, massage, applying heat and ice, posture training, bracing or electric stimulation.
Be aware, if you are planning to try this therapy you should first talk to your doctor about the same to take their recommendation. Although alternative treatment methods are considered to be safe, it can possibly interact with other treatment methods you may be trying to cure your DDD.
4. Diet, Supplements and Vitamins
Supplements and vitamins along with good nutritious diet is mostly recommended for degenerative disc disease. In conditions like cervical disc disorder with radiculopathy, patients when given best supplements, can see effective disc regeneration which helps in relieving the pain significantly.
Some of the best natural supplements that helps in relieving DDD are: Calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12. Calcium supplements on one hand helps in bone development/regeneration process, vitamins on the other hand acts as a powerful antioxidants to enhance the healing.
5. NSAIDs and Other Medications
Over-the-counter medications like aspirin and acetaminophen are effective for controlling pain many times. However if these are not sufficient NSAIDs, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants and other medicines as prescribed by your health care provider acts as an effective DDD treatment in many cases.
It is important to get the prescription by your doctor which includes the detail about the dosage and how often to take them.
Ibuprofen and naproxen are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, helping to ease discomfort by suppressing the inflammatory response in the joints and discs. Physician may also prescribe codeine or morphine for severe pain relief cases. They act as a dulling anesthetic for the focal nervous system.
6. Chiropractic Manipulation
Spinal manipulation by an experienced chiropractor is one of the best treatment option for DDD which helps to increase the motion of spinal joints, decrease inflammation and accomplish proper alignment.
Chiropractor uses different types of spinal manipulation techniques such as: flexion-distraction method, manual spinal manipulation, instrument-driven manipulation, trigger point therapy, and therapeutic massage.
The type of treatment method given to you may differ and is usually determined after examining the exact problem and its severity. You may need to get various chiropractic appointments for getting the maximum relief from DDD pain.
7. Surgical Treatment
Surgery for degenerative disc disease is a last resort for patients. In fact in most of the cases people suffering from DDD does not actually require a surgery. It is a prescribed option when the patient experiences severe cervical, back and lumbar pain even after trying several weeks of conservative non surgical DDD treatment options.
Many advanced techniques have been invented to make surgery for degenerative disc disease in neck minimally invasive as well as to help patients achieve the relief they need fast. Sophisticated surgical procedures provide patients with many benefits over typical open back surgery. This includes little incisions, lower risk, short term recovery and minimal scarring.
Can Degenerative Disc Disease Really Be Cured Completely?
Sad to reveal but true, REVERSING degenerative disc disease of back and spine may not be possible completely. Once you are diagnosed with DDD it probably would be a life long journey for you. You actually need to learn living with the cervical and lumbar pain for rest of your life.
Simply saying, once your discs begin to degenerate, there is no sure shot method which can reverse the process. However there are many things which you can do for controlling the pain and your lifestyle.
Staying active, eating high protein & low calorie diet, regular stretching and exercising, etc can bring good change in your painful conditions.
In fact making this as a part of your living from young age can help in slowing down the natural disc degeneration process; hence can help you lead healthy and pain-free life for long.
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