Degenerative disc disease is a condition that is categorized by a gradual deterioration and thinning of the shock-absorbing intervertebral discs in your spine. In some cases, disc generation is contained to one overstressed disc, but more often, disc degeneration occurs at multiple levels throughout the spine. When this happens, it’s aptly called “Multi-Level Degenerative Disc Disease.” Today, we take a closer look at the condition and how it is treated.
Causes and Symptoms of Multi-Level Disc Disease
Multi-level degenerative disc disease is a fairly common condition for individuals over the age of 50. In fact, the most common cause of multi-level degenerative disc disease is age, which means there’s little you can do to prevent the condition from naturally setting in. Other actions that can lead to a more expedient breakdown of of the spinal discs include physical labor, excessive stress on the spine, years of alcohol consumption and acute trauma.
Symptoms of multi-level degenerative disc disease vary based on the location of the degeneration. Since discs can break down in your neck, your middle back or your lumbar spine, symptoms can arise in a number of different locations. Also, a number of individuals may actually be suffering from multi-level disc breakdown and not even know it, because the condition doesn’t always cause symptoms. In and of itself, multi-level degenerative disc disease is usually asymptomatic, but problems occur when discs shrink or shift and other structures like nerves become compressed. When this happens, symptoms include:
- Localized pain
- Shooting pain
- Muscle weakness
- Inhibited gait (when degenerative occurs in the lumbar spine).
Prevention and Treatment
If you suspect that your back pain may be caused by multi-level degenerative disc disease, especially if you are over the age of 50, consider setting up a visit with your spine care provider. They’ll be able to conduct a physical exam and pair it with any necessary imaging tests to discover the levels at which the degeneration has taken place. This will allow them to come up with a comprehensive treatment plan.
As we always say, the best treatment for a condition is prevention, so before we talk about treatment methods, let’s talk about preventing multi-level degenerative disc disease. Although it’s impossible to prevent yourself from aging, there are some things you can do to help keep your spine healthy as you get older. Some prevention tips to remember include:
- Practice proper posture at work and at home.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Get regular exercise.
- Take part in core strength training.
- Avoid or limit alcohol and tobacco consumption.
- Invest in a supportive bed.
- Use proper lifting techniques
If multi-level degenerative disc disease eventually sets in, your doctor will first begin by administering a course of conservative treatment, which may include rest, pain medications, physical therapy, exercise and diet modifications. These treatments will not reverse disc degeneration, but they can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further disc breakdown.
If conservative care fails to resolve your issue, surgery may be your best option. A spinal fusion or spinal disc replacement operation can help restrengthen and stabilize your spinal column. Your doctor will walk you through all your options prior to surgery.
If you think you’re battling multi-level degenerative disc disease, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office today to set up a consultation.