Degenerative disc disease. The term alone may cause you to conjure up ideas of debilitating pain. It is true that the breakdown of the healthy spinal structure is associated with chronic discomfort and limited range of motion. However, there are ways to manage symptoms of degenerative disc disease to improve quality of life.
Initial Steps for Pain Control
When the pain of degenerative disc disease flares up, daily activities may be interrupted. The initial response in this case is to get pain under control. Strategies to accomplish this include:
- Short periods of rest as needed. Balance is important in managing spinal pain. Too little movement can worsen symptoms rather than help. In addition to rest, patients should stretch and walk.
- Heat and ice therapies can help soothe muscle tension and also minimize pain. Some people vary heat and ice packs at 15-minute intervals for both pain relief and muscle relaxation.
- Over-the-counter medication. Either a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen can be taken, provided there are no contraindications such as liver disease or kidney disease.
- In cases of persistent or severe back or neck pain, a doctor may prescribe specific medications to manage comfort.
Addressing Spinal Health
One of the best ways to address spinal health and physiology is to engage in a prescribed physical therapy program. Physical therapy can be beneficial during acute periods of pain as well as periods in which pain is relatively mild. The exercises prescribed and taught by physical therapists facilitate muscle strength and spinal stability, as well as flexibility around the spine. Some physical therapy programs incorporate adjunct modalities such as massage, myofascial release, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
Repairing Spinal Injury
Nonsurgical remedies may reduce pain and improve mobility. However, these strategies may not repair the injury to the spine. Though surgery such as discectomy or spinal fusion is considered a final step in treating chronic or acute pain, it may be necessary when conservative therapies are unable to achieve significant improvement.
Dr. Todd Albert is a specialist in the field of orthopedic spine surgery. As the Surgeon-in-Chief Emeritus of the Hospital for Special Surgery, he brings a wealth of experience to each case of spinal pain. To schedule a consultation at our NYC office, call 212-606-1004.