Chiropractic Treatment for Your Degenerative Disc Disease

What is degenerative disc disease?

There is a difference between normal aging in the protective discs that cushion the spine and the condition commonly known as degenerative disc disease.  While most people will experience some normal age-related wear and tear, some will go on to develop this painfully debilitating condition and will require treatment for pain and other symptoms associated with it.

Before we can understand how degenerative disc disease can negatively impact your life, we need to understand exactly what discs are and why they are important.

Spinal Discs

Textbook illustration of a degenerative disc.

Discs are the jelly filled shock absorbers that your vertebrae need for cushioning and movement.  There is one disc between each pair of vertebrae and while they are designed to absorb shock and increase flexibility, they are more delicate than you would think.

The disc is designed with a tough outer layer known as the anulus fibrosus covering a spongy gel-like core called the nucleus pulposus.  The outer portion contains nerves that will cause pain if it is torn, and the core has proteins that will inflame nerves if the gel is leaked outside the disc.

The disc is susceptible to injury.  Because it has a low blood supply, an injured disc is unable to heal itself.  The disc may go through into three stages of degeneration over the course of time, sometimes even twenty to thirty years after the original injury.

  • Pain will diminish spinal mobility
  • Intermittent back pain is caused by unstable vertebrae at the injury site
  • The body compensates and restabilizes the injury, with the patient having less pain.

When the disc begins to fail, it is referred to as degenerative disc disease.  Most people with this condition will have had normal spinal health and been active throughout their thirties and forties.  At that point, some people may be more prone to degenerative disc disease than others:

  • Sports or rigorous daily activities:  By the age of 60, many people will have a degree of degeneration of their discs.  Most of them won’t have back pain.  Rigorous daily activities and sports can cause tears to the outer covering of the disc, making disability far more likely.
  • Disc dehydration:  When we are younger, our discs contain around 80% fluid. As we get older, our discs will begin to dehydrate and dry out, leaving them less capable of absorbing shocks.
  • Spinal injuries:  A spinal injury will cause instability, soreness, and swelling that will lead to back pain.

Normal Aging, or Degenerative Disc Disease?

How can we tell if the occasional discomfort we are feeling is a normal sign of aging, or something more concerning?

Your pain may be related to degenerative disc disease if it:

Is relieved by changing your position or lying down but seems to be worse when sitting.  Your discs are actually under three times as much stress while sitting as they are when you are standing.

  • Seems to be relieved by running or walking more than sitting or standing for an extended period of time.
  • Gets worse if you twist, bend, or lift an object
  • Seems to cause weakness in the legs, or numbness and tingling in your extremities.  You may notice a foot drop, which could indicate damage to the nerves.
  • Causes intermittent pain that can last days, weeks or even months before it seems to be relieved.  The pain can be of any intensity from nagging and aching to disabling and severe.  Pain can be felt in the back or radiate to the buttocks, neck, thigh, hands and arms depending on where the disc is.

If you are experiencing back pain of any kind, it is always best to seek the advice of a professional.  Your doctor will base a potential diagnosis of degenerative disc disease on a combination of your reported symptoms, a thorough medical history, a detailed physical examination, and the origins of your pain.  The doctor may also order and MRI, and while this image can show disc damages, it is just one part of many diagnostic tools that will be used to confirm your diagnosis of degenerative disc disease.

How Will a Chiropractor Treat My Degenerative Disc Disease?

Woman with degenerative disc disease getting a chiropractic adjustment.

Your chiropractor has several options for improving your range of motion, improving your joint mobility, and reducing inflammation.  If you don’t have an advanced disc degeneration, your chiropractor will work on the discs themselves, increasing their functionality.

Your chiropractor will use any combination of spinal manipulation and manual therapies.  These can include:

  • Flexion-distraction:  This technique is generally used for spinal stenosis and disc herniations.  It involves a non-thrusting, gentle technique.
  • Resistance and manual joint stretching:  Your chiropractor may choose these techniques to relieve the symptoms and pain associated with degenerative disc disease.
  • Instrument assisted techniques:  From soft tissue therapies to manipulation, these techniques can apply force gently and without force to reduce the symptoms and pain of your degenerative disc disease.  The chiropractor can use tools and instruments to treat your condition without having to directly manipulate the spine and surrounding tissues.
  • Spinal manipulation:  Your chiropractor is specially trained to identify what areas and joints are affected by degenerative disc disease, and any areas showing restricted or abnormal movements.  The doctor will use very gentle thrusting techniques to restore joint mobility.  This is also referred to as a spinal adjustment.
  • Therapeutic massages:  Massages are a time-tested way of releasing painful tension in the muscles.
  • Trigger point therapy:  Your chiropractor will apply direct pressure on any painfully tight muscle areas to relieve tensions.

Will Chiropractic Care Really Help My Degenerative Disc Disease?

Yes, your chiropractor can help relieve the pain and symptoms of degenerative disc disease.  In addition to treating the condition, the chiropractor will coach and advise patients on other ways they can help themselves with a treatment plan designed to treat the “whole person.”  This may include lifestyle changes, stress management, and making healthy nutritional choices.

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Crist Chiropractic & Wellness exists to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health through natural and holistic means. Our team is committed to restoring the body’s ability to express its true health potential. We strive to serve our patients and our community with a spirit of complete caring, by radiating health and promoting well-being.

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