Individuals who have degenerative disc disease (DDD) caused by osteoarthritis of the spine can suffer extreme back pain. However, while the condition is common, not everyone experiences symptoms. The risk of developing DDD increases as people get older. Compression of lumbar discs, better described as the cushions in the spaces between the vertebrae of the spine, causes irritation that can cause pain and limit mobility. If you suffer pain related to DDD, there are a number of different treatment options available, which range from home remedies to alternative medicine to traditional medical treatment and drug therapies. Most people seem to benefit from a combination of treatments.
Ask your physician to prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication to relieve severe pain. A problem with these types of medications is that they are not safe for people who have high blood pressure or heart disease to take over an extended period of time. Bleeding ulcers can be a serious side effect. A steroid such as prednisone may be prescribed as well. Aspirin is an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory that can relieve pain although it may raise blood pressure. Acetaminophen is not an anti-inflammatory but can be used to relieve pain.
Consider alternative treatments such as acupuncture or massage therapy. Acupuncture may release endorphins and serotonin, blocking pain signals to the brain. Endorphins are hormones secreted within the brain, which have the effect of relieving pain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can suppress the intensity of the pain messages being sent to the brain. Deep-body massage works by stimulating circulation, thereby relaxing tense muscles and alleviating pain. Increased blood flow delivers oxygen to the muscles and removes waste products such as lactic acid, which can cause painful muscle spasms.
Apply moist heat to the area that hurts for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Use of a heating pad, warm compresses and hot baths increases blood flow by expanding blood vessels. Moist heat penetrates deeply into the muscles, decreasing muscle spasms and reducing joint stiffness. Chiropractors and physical and occupational therapists often include heat therapy as part of a patient’s treatment plan.
Discuss with your doctor the use of dietary supplements. Glucosamine is thought to play a role in cartilage repair, while chondroitin sulfate might have an anti-inflammatory effect. Chondroitin also contributes to the elastic properties of bone cartilage. Although the body produces these substances naturally, taking additional nutritional supplements extracted from the tissue of sea animals may help increase blood flow to the cartilage and muscles. According to a study published in a February 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, even though there is no evidence that taking these two dietary supplements in combination produces any harmful side effects, these substances may or may not relieve mild to severe pain related to osteoarthritis (see Reference 2). The findings of the study were unclear.
Get regular exercise. Exercise helps your back heal faster so that you can return to your normal level of activity. An exercise program should include strengthening, stretching and aerobic exercises for maximum benefit. Your doctor may recommend that you schedule some physical therapy sessions to work on strengthening your lower back, leg and stomach muscles. A physical therapist can also instruct you on the proper way to walk and lift weight.
Talk to a chiropractor about treatment. A chiropractor can perform spinal manipulation to reduce pain due to muscle spasm and increase flexibility and range of motion of the spine. Patients seeking treatment for DDD may need to schedule as many as three to five appointments during the first week of care. Do not be surprised if the chiropractor stresses proper posture, exercise, diet and other lifestyle changes to prevent pain from recurring.