What is lumbar spine osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease?
‘Degenerative Disc Disease (or DDD) is caused by degeneration of the discs in the spinal column. Age can cause this, but most of the time it is caused by some sort of trauma to the spine. People with bulging or herniated discs almost always have this disease, as well as people with Scoliosis. Degenerative disc disease is a natural process that occurs in the majority of individuals as we age.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of arthritis that features the progressive damage and eventual breakdown of the articular cartilage that lines our joints. Cartilage is a firm, rubber-like tissue that covers the surfaces of joints that allows our bones to glide on one another. If the cartilage breaks down due to wear and tear it will start to deteriorate and the bones begin to rub together. This rubbing together can cause pain, stiffness and swelling. The lumbar spine carries most of the body’s weight, which means that both movement and inactivity can trigger symptoms.
Symptoms range from person to person but you can experience numbness and tingling in the legs and buttocks. Loss of range of motion, pain usually with extension, commonly increased pain with standing, decreased pain with sitting. Symptoms can also get as severe as temporary paralysis in the legs or a particular leg. No two people will report the exact same symptoms.
In some cases, DDD has been seen as a /genetic/hereditary disease. However, not all doctors will agree on this and there have been no conclusive studies done to prove one way or the other. OA usually occurs in people over the age of 50 and is usually diagnosed through patient symptoms or diagnostic imaging. However, it is emphasized that ageing itself is not the sole cause of OA and should not be considered a part of ‘normal ageing. OA can result from a wide variety of conditions such as bad posture, occupational tasks, prolonged immobilization, obesity, or repetitive small injuries.
Treatment usually starts with physical therapy and pain medications to see if some of the pain is alleviated. Others might try steroid injects at the points on the discs that are messed up to try to directly alleviate the pain. Posture education and maintaining/ improving general cardiovascular fitness is important for patients with lumbar spine OA.
Complementary therapy treatments include acupuncture, herbs, pool therapy, and massages, all of these are other methods you could look into and see if they’re right for you. Check with your insurance and see if they cover any of these alternative methods. Some insurances will pay for them if you have a doctor state that he or she believes you could really benefit from such methods.
Seeking the proper medical advice and rehabilitation services will be critical in the management of this lifelong condition. Pursuing physiotherapy will help optimize your quality of life and prevent the development of a more severe spinal condition.
Performing a regular exercise routine will help to reduce the severity and duration of any ‘flare-ups’. Moving the back in a controlled way helps promote the delivery of nutrients to the joints in the spine keeping the disc, muscles and ligaments healthier.
Preventing the spread of degenerative disc disease involves catching the condition in an early stage, as damage to one disc can lead to a domino-like effect on other spinal levels, putting them at risk for disease or other conditions, like disc herniation.
The following can help reduce the symptoms of lumbar arthritis:
- maintaining a moderate weight
- following a healthful diet, including foods that reduce inflammation
- avoiding smoking
- avoiding excess alcohol
If these methods do not work, your doctor might recommend surgery. They can perform a spinal fusion, place rods into your spinal column, and a few other alternative surgery methods. Surgery is entirely up to you and you should not feel pressured by your doctor to have surgery unless your ailment has become life-threatening.