By Dr. Virginia Nsitem
A patient called my office with panic in her voice and stated “I have degenerative disc disease in my spine. Is it serious? What will happen to me?” After a long discussion, she agreed to come into the office with copies of her radiology reports. She was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease in the neck and low back. Below is a summary of our discussions during her visit.
Anatomy of the Spine
The spine is divided into three major parts – the cervical spine (neck), the thoracic spine (mid back), and the lumbar spine (low back). The bones of the spine are called vertebrae and they are separated by soft gel-like discs. The discs in the spine act as shock absorbers and keep the bones from rubbing against each another. The bones are connected to each other by ligaments, and tendons attach the muscles to the bones. The powerful muscles in the spine provide support and balance. The spine also functions to protect your spinal cord. The spinal cord is a column of nerves that connects your brain with the rest of your body.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition where one or more discs in the spine deteriorates or wears down, due to age. This deterioration of the discs results in neck and back pain. As we age, the gel-like discs begin to dry out. Degenerative disc disease can also be caused by an injury to the spine, or by repetitive activities from sports or work.
Some studies have shown that you are at risk for developing degenerative disc disease if you are overweight, smoke, or live a sedentary lifestyle (prolonged sitting).
She commented that the pain occasionally refers to her arms and buttocks. She felt that sitting made her pain worse, and walking and moving made her feel better. During my examination, I found that she had painful neck and back movements, especially with bending, turning, and twisting. She had pain when arching her back. The muscles of the neck and back were tender and very tight. She felt a “catch” in the back with standing straight after bending forward.
The first goal before therapy is to diagnose the cause of the pain. My patient previously visited her family physician and was referred for CT studies of her neck and back. In addition, she was assessed at my office. There are other serious conditions that can also cause pain in the neck and back, and these should be ruled out before you begin your rehabilitation treatments. Her rehabilitation program included:
- Chiropractic treatments to improve flexibility, balance, and strength of the spine, and restore proper movement to the joints of the spine. Laser therapy was used to help reduce the pain
associated with the muscle spasms. Massage and acupuncture are complimentary therapies that can reduce pain as you become more active.
- Rehab Program. She was taught specific exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles that support the neck and back. She was instructed on exercises to strengthen upper arm, mid back, and abdominal muscles. She also decided to join the aqua-fit classes at her local community centre.
- Posture. She was education on proper standing, lifting, bending, sitting, and lying techniques to reduce the risk of recurrence of her pain.
After 2 months of therapy, she reported a significant decrease in her neck and low back pain, and an improvement in her movement and function. She was excited to return to gardening and playing with her grandkids. It was also important that she was educated on the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, as this helped to calm her fears and motivated her to take a more active role in her health care.
Dr. Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for spine, muscle, joint, and nerve injuries, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in
Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org