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Spine degeneration, or degenerative disc disease, is characterized by one or more of the intervertebral discs beginning to break down from wear and tear. The discs that provide cushioning between the vertebrae that make up the spine absorb pressure and stress from daily movement and activities. After time, the vertebrae rubbing on the disks can cause them to tear and wear thin, causing degeneration.
The most common initial symptom of degenerative disc disease is low back pain that can spread to the buttocks, hips, and thighs. It is considered to be one of the most common causes of low back pain. Spine degeneration and disc degeneration can also lead to bulging or herniated discs. Bulging discs are not usually considered a serious condition unless they cause severe pain or cause the spinal canal to narrow.
The pain from degenerative disc disease is usually caused by inflammation, abnormal micromotion instability, or a combination of the two. Inflammation means that the discs have swollen. Swollen discs can put pressure on the nerves in the disc space, causing back pain. Abnormal micromotion instability occurs when the outer rings of the intervertebral discs wear down or become damaged. Worn discs are not as effective at absorbing pressure from spinal movement, which causes increased pressure on the vertebrae and nerves in the back.
Spine degeneration is usually treated with mild pain relievers and rest. Resting on a firm mattress with a pillow placed under the knees can help relieve low back pain. Patients with degeneration should not rest for more than two or three days at a time, however, as this can lead to a weakening of the back muscles and make the problem worse.
Some spine degeneration patients see physical therapists to help improve the condition. Physical therapists work with back disorder patients to teach them exercises to strengthen the back and core muscles that support the body, improve range of motion and flexibility, and reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy helps patients learn the correct way to hold their spines when they sit, stand, and perform daily activities.
Epidural steroid injections are sometimes used to help control pain from spine degeneration in some patients. The injections contain an anti-inflammatory steroid called cortisone that can help relieve swelling and pain from bulging discs, and reduce pain from irritated nerves in the disc spaces. Epidural steroid injections are typically only used when other, less-invasive pain relief methods have failed.