Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments - Pursuit Physical Therapy
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DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE IN LOW BACK

Are you not able to continue your cherished hobbies or everyday activities because of sharp pain in your low back when you move? With our expert doctors’ help, you can get to the root of your symptoms and get back to doing what you love quicker and easier.

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Best Orlando Treatment for a

DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE IN LOW BACK

Are you not able to continue your cherished hobbies or everyday activities because of sharp pain in your low back when you move? With our expert doctors’ help, you can get to the root of your symptoms and get back to doing what you love quicker and easier.

Read More Ask A Question

Here Is Everything You Need To Know About Degenerative Disc Disease in Low Back, What Causes It, and The Best Way to Treat It

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What is degenerative disc disease in low back?

It’s estimated that as many as 75% of us will have some form of back or neck pain at some point in our lifetime. The good news is that most of us will recover without the need for surgery—and conservative care such as physical therapy usually gets better results than surgery. Degenerative disk disease (DDD) is one cause of back and neck pain. Usually the result of the natural aging process, degenerative disk disease (DDD) is a type of osteoarthritis of the spine.

What are common causes of degenerative disc disease in low back?

Your spine is made up of 33 vertebrae that are stacked on top of one another. Between each of these vertebrae is a rubbery piece of cartilage called an “intervertebral disk.” Imagine the disk as a tire, with gelatin filling the hole in the tire. The tire is called the “annulus,” and the gelatin is called the “nucleus.” When we’re young—under 30 years of age—the disk is made mostly of gelatin. As we age, and sometimes with injury or excessive wear and tear, we start to lose some of that gelatin, and the volume of the disk decreases, resulting in less space between the vertebrae. The disk becomes flatter and less flexible, leaving less space between each set of vertebrae. Sometimes bone spurs form in response to this degeneration of the disk, making the spine stiff. When the rough surfaces of the vertebral joints rub together, pain and inflammation may result. Nerves may become irritated or compressed.Disk degeneration might occur throughout several regions of the spine, or it might be limited to one disk. When it’s part of the natural aging process, the degeneration does not always lead to pain. For some people, however, it can cause a great deal of pain and disability.You are more likely to develop DDD if you:

  • Smoke
  • Are obese
  • Do heavy physical work
  • Don’t get very much exercise

Where does it hurt?

In most cases of degenerative disc disease in the low back, the patient will report of a dull ache to sharp pain across the whole low back area. They will report the pain going across their whole low back area and it may be worse with standing and prolonged walking. Sometimes they will have associated glute pain and hip problems too. Because of this, it’s possible to feel the pain in other parts of your body. This is called referred pain. Understanding the root cause of your pain is fundamental to treating your pain in the long run & will decrease your dependence on painkillers or treatment that only addresses the symptoms.

What are common symptoms of degenerative disc disease in low back?

You might have mild to intense neck and back pain—or no pain at all:

  • A degenerative disk in the neck can cause pain in the arm, shoulder,or neck
  • A degenerative disk in the low back might cause pain in the back, buttocks, or legs

The pain is often made worse by sitting, bending, and reaching. It may be worse first thing in the morning and after staying in any one position for a long time.

In severe cases, when DDD results in pressure on the nerves, it can lead to numbness, tingling, and even weakness in the arms or legs.

Learn how to get rid of your low back pain

Sign up for our free webinar when we break down 3 actual patient cases and show you, exactly, how we got them pain free.

We’ll show you:

  • The most common cases of low back pain
  • How some low back pain can be commonly misdiagnosed
  • How to tell what type of low back pain you have
  • Self treatment that you can try at home

Can degenerative disc disease in low back be treated?

Yes, low back pain from degenerative disc disease can be treated and with great results. Even better, many times it can be treated conservatively without needing injections, pain medications, or surgeries if you can address it early enough. The key to treatment is to solve the root cause of your pain so you can get the best results and a long-term outcome.

Some root causes of degenerative disc disease in the low back can be:

  • A decreased mid back range of motion
  • Poor posture in sitting
  • Lack of hip range of motion
  • Weak hip and glute muscles
  • Poor lifting biomechanics
  • Overloading low back area
  • Tight low back and hip joints
  • Poor biomechanics at work
  • Too much sitting
  • Developing fear of pain and movement

If you have failed multiple treatment approaches already, your clinician missed the real root cause of your pain and was just chasing the symptoms. The pain or symptom is the effect, not the cause. What do I mean by this? Say your fire alarm goes off in your house. Its purpose is to protect you and make you aware that something is wrong, i.e., that there is a fire in your house. The “alarm” is like your pain (your body’s way of telling you something is wrong) and the “fire” is the root cause. When the fire alarm goes off, you don’t run upstairs and just turn it off, right? You run through the house with the fire extinguisher, trying to find the room where the fire is at. You try to find out what caused the alarm to go off so you can put it out. Once the fire is out, then the fire alarm can go off. Solve the “root” cause of your pain, and then the pain (“the effect”) eventually goes away.

Additionally, there is a common root cause which many clinicians misdiagnose. They treat the low back pain with a cookie cutter approach, hoping it will work and treat it as a simple muscle problem. They tend to rely on stretching, ultrasound, massage, and focus treatment directly on the low back. However, often the root cause is missed and the symptoms return. If you have failed multiple low back treatments and still have low back pain, then maybe it’s not a low back problem? Hmmm.  Maybe the root cause in the hips! So many healthcare clinicians treat pain like this and thus show poor treatment outcomes which results in the pain coming back. Why? They missed the root cause of your low back pain. This is also the case when patients turn to injections, nerve blocks and other surgeries which are still not effective because the actual problem still is not solved, their treatment was just chasing the pain.

The first step in treatment is to identify the root cause of your pain. A specific and individualized treatment approach for your type of pain can lead to a successful outcome for you and resolve your symptoms for the long term. This is why you can’t rely on a standard cookie cutter approach; you need a customized and individualized treatment approach specifically for your type of pain from degenerative disc disease in the low back.

“I went to see Ron Miller for chronic pain in my hip and lower back. I was unable to play tennis, work out with weights and could not sleep through the night. I received a consultation with Ron and he set up a treatment plan. I was pain free within 5 visits. I am grateful to have found the solution to my pain!

What happens if it goes untreated?

Minor case – If it is a minor case of pain from a degenerative disc in the low back, research shows that many acute cases of pain may spontaneously go away in 4-8 weeks. The key is to solve the root cause of what is causing the actual low back pain and overloading the disc? Many times the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease is a false positive, meaning that it was there before you had your low back pain. The key is to solve the root cause of your low back pain. But who wants to wait 8 weeks to get pain free? Let’s try to solve the root cause of your pain in 2-3 weeks and address all of the risk factors present (so it never returns!) and get you back to your favorite activities faster! We still recommend that you get it checked out by one of our board-certified physical therapists to ensure that it is just a minor case, to solve all risk factors, and to get the optimal outcome in the fewest visits needed. Most minor cases resolve on their own in time or get better with some stretching and strengthening. But, the sooner you take action, the sooner you are pain-free. (And research supports this!)

Severe case – If it’s more of a severe and chronic case of pain from a degenerative disc in your low back, your pain will probably start to worsen and increase because the root cause of the pain is not being treated. Many people turn to pain medication and injections at this time but this only blocks the pain for short term. You may not feel the pain when taking pain medications, but the underlying problem is still there. Many people say after the pain medication and injections wear off, then usually the pain returns and sometimes it returns even worse. This is when you experience worse low back pain, radiating glute and leg pain with certain movements, and you may even experience low back pain at rest now. If it continues to worsen, standing, walking, and lying flat will start to hurt and you will prefer to sit. As the disc continues to be overloaded and compressed, standing and walking become very painful. Even though it’s more chronic now, we can still help. Once the root cause and all risk factors are addressed, then we can start decreasing your pain, regardless of how chronic and severe the pain is. This is the crucial first step. It just may take more time to recover from a chronic case. Usually with chronic and severe cases, the longer you have your pain and injury, the longer it takes to resolve.

What outcome can you expect from treatment?

As we’ve discussed, the first step is to solve the root cause of your low back pain from degenerative disc disease. This is the most essential step to plan a treatment specialized for you and your unique type of pain. Your root cause will guide your treatment and dictate what is the best way to treat your pain. This, along with identifying risk factors that may be predisposing you to have your pain and injury, will allow you to start getting pain free again. The next step is to start decreasing pain, modifying activities, and start addressing all of the impairments causing your pain which we discovered during your evaluation. With each session, pain should start to decrease and you should start to regain range of motion with less pain and symptoms. Any radicular and referred pain should resolve fast as well. At this point, we begin light and basic strengthening only if it does not increase pain. Treatment will consist of a lot of manual therapy and light exercises.

The next step is to achieve full range of motion, (which should correlate to being pain-free) and now we can start progressive strengthening. Strengthening the muscles is crucial and research shows that this gives you the best long-term outcome! As you start to get stronger and maintain your mobility, your pain will continue to decrease if it is not already gone. Your increased strength will allow you to perform more activities and prevent flare-ups. This usually does take up to 4 weeks. As you clear our goals, then we can start easing you back into sport, golf, running, and whatever your favorite activities are. This is when we start winding down treatments and getting you back into functional strengthening, sport specific training, return to run programs, golfing, and whatever your goals are. In the end, we reassess everything, making sure we achieved all of our goals, your goals, that all risk factors are gone, and finalize your long-term home exercise program. There are many factors which can influence your outcome, but 85-90% of our patients respond well to our treatment approach and achieve a successful outcome when completing their plan of care.

Learn how to get rid of your low back pain

Sign up for our free webinar when we break down 3 actual patient cases and show you, exactly, how we got them pain free.

How is it diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes a review of your medical history and will use screening tools to determine the likelihood of DDD. For example, the therapist may:

    • Ask you very specific questions about the location and behavior of your pain, weakness, and other symptoms
    • Ask you to fill out a

body diagram to indicate specific areas of pain, numbness, and tingling

  • Perform tests of muscle strength and sensation to determine the severity of the pressure on your nerves
  • Examine your posture and observe how you walk and perform other activities
  • Measure the range of motion of your spine and your arms and legs
  • Use manual therapy to evaluate the mobility of the joints and muscles in your spine
  • Test the strength of important muscle groups

If you have muscle weakness and loss of sensation or very severe pain, special diagnostic tests, such as x-rays, may be needed. Physical therapists work closely with physicians and other health care providers to make certain that an accurate diagnosis is made and the appropriate treatment is provided.

Research shows that in all but the most extreme cases (usually involving muscle weakness or high levels of pain), conservative care, such as physical therapy, has better results than surgery.

After the evaluation, if your therapist suspects you have DDD and there are no major medical problems, treatment can begin right away.

Do you need an X-ray and MRI imaging for low back pain from degenerative disc disease?

For most common orthopedic cases, imaging is not needed and the diagnosis can be made with a simple physical therapy evaluation. No need to waste thousands of dollars on unwarranted diagnostic imaging. We also have clinical tests which we can perform to help rule in and rule out pathologies that correlate to MRI findings (which is WAY cheaper than an MRI!). An expensive MRI may just tell us what we already know. Also, often times the positive findings found on x-rays, MRIs, and EMGs may not actually be the root cause of your pain. What does that mean? Many positive findings on an MRI are also found in asymptomatic (pain-free) individuals, so diagnostic imaging may not be able to tell us what is actually causing your pain. For example: many people have a herniated disc in their low back but do not have any low back pain. So if herniated discs can cause no pain, just because someone with low back pain has a herniated disc does not mean that is what’s causing their pain. The key is to find out if your clinical evaluation findings during your evaluation at Pursuit match the MRI findings. If so, then we can decide what is the best way to treat it.

How can a Physical Therapist treat it?

Your physical therapist’s overall purpose is to help you continue to participate in your daily activities and life roles. The therapist will design a treatment program based on both the findings of the evaluation and your personal goals. The treatment program likely will be a combination of exercises.

Relieve Pain and Increase Movement
Your therapist will design:

 

        Stretching and flexibility exercises to improve mobility in the joints and muscles of your spine and your extremities—improving motion in a joint is often the key to pain relief

    Strengthening exercises—strong trunk muscles provide support for your spinal joints, and strong arm and leg muscles help take some of the workload off your spinal jointsAerobic exercise, which has been shown to be helpful in relieving pain, promoting a healthy body weight, and improving overall strength and mobility—all important factors in managing DDD

    This might sound like a lot of exercise, but don’t worry: research shows that the more exercise you can handle, the quicker you’ll get rid of your pain and other symptoms.

    Your physical therapist also might decide to use a combination of treatments:

    • Manual therapy to improve the mobility of stiff joints and tight muscles that may be contributing to your symptoms
    • Posture and movement education to show you how to make small changes in how you sit, stand, bend, and lift—even in how you sleep—to help relieve your pain and help you manage your condition on your own
    • Special pain treatments—such as ice, electrical stimulation, or a short course of traction—for pain that is severe and not relieved by exercise or manual therapy

    Once your pain is gone, it will be important for you to continue your new posture and movement habits to keep your back healthy.

    “After at least three years of doctor-hopping […] looking for someone to alleviate my constant dizziness and neck pain, I finally found Dr. Miller. I have more energy and less pain, and have halved my dependence on painkillers. He shouldn’t be the last stop on your road to recovery, he should be the first.”

    How long does it take for a recovery?

    Recovery time for degenerative disc disease in the low back depends on multiple factors:

    • The severity and chronicity of your pain
    • Whether your pain is an easy or complex case
    • If the root cause of your pain was solved or if it was missed (this is the key to getting a great recovery!)
    • How long you have been in pain for and when you need to be pain-free by
    • Other therapies and treatments you have tried
    • Which medical professional(s) you saw prior to seeing us
    • How active you are in trying to resolve your pain
    • Which treatment approach is chosen and if it is proven to work for your pain

    There are many factors that influence your recovery time and every patient’s recovery time is different. If you do nothing and don’t pursue treatment, it could gradually get better on its own, you could continue to have the same pain persist, or it could continue to get worse. As stated earlier, most acute cases may or may not resolve in 4-8 weeks. If you get expert treatment that solves the root cause of your pain, some cases resolve in 1-3 weeks! Then you can get back to sports, exercise, and your favorite activities without flare-ups and recurrences. Some of our patients are pain-free in 1-3 visits and back to 100% in 2 weeks!

    If it is a complex case with chronic pain, your recovery may take longer, but you can still get a good outcome. Some chronic cases can resolve as fast as 2 months but can take as long as 4-6 months. It varies with every patient because every case of degenerative disc disease and low back pain is different. Every patient’s recovery varies depending on the factors listed above. After a thorough evaluation here at Pursuit Physical Therapy, you will know your exact timeline of recovery, your prognosis, and when you should reach your goals.

    How much does it cost?

    The average cost of care for a case of spine pain in the US is $1800-$6600. This high price is due to many factors: the over-inflated cost of healthcare, the over expensive cost of unwarranted imaging (x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs) that is not needed, over-utilization of care (which increases the number of visits needed to be treated, requiring multiple visits to different doctors and physical therapists for the same diagnosis), and getting billed for unnecessary and unproven treatments that you don’t even need. All of these factors increase cost and this is why healthcare is so expensive. We strive to end that unnecessary, expensive cycle. In fact, we are currently publishing our first-year data with the University of Central Florida that shows the cost-effectiveness of our treatment approach.

    This year, the average cost of our care was shown to be $814-$1141. Some of our patients get even as low as $315 for the full treatment! So if you have a deductible of $3,000-$10,000 and you have to pay out of pocket for your treatment, we can save you lots of money.

    Remember, every case of pain is different and not all low back pain from degenerative disc disease is the same. It is hard to predict exactly how much your treatment is going to cost you. But after a thorough evaluation, we can tell you exactly what is causing your pain, how long it is going to take, what the best way to treat it will be, and exactly how much it is going to cost. We have no hidden fees, no co-pays, and no miscellaneous bills that you will be surprised by 3 months after you receive treatment. Your pain, your diagnosis, your goals, and what is best for you dictate your treatment and how much it will cost, and while it varies for every patient, treatment at Pursuit is still much more affordable than standard healthcare.

    How long are sessions?

    Our evaluations are always one-on-one with one of our board-certified specialists and 60-90 minutes long. We like to perform thorough evaluations so we can solve the root cause of your pain, identify all risk factors, and make sure that we do it right. After the evaluation, you will know your diagnosis, the root cause of why you have your pain and symptoms, your prognosis, an expected timeline of when you should see results, what the best way to treat your pain is, how much it will cost, and your expected recovery outcome. We want you to fully understand everything about your pain and injury. What is best for you and will get you the best outcome is what will dictate your care and treatment. There will be plenty of time for you to ask questions so we can make sure you fully understand why you have your pain and what the best way to treat it will be. After the evaluation is completed, all treatment sessions are 60 minutes going forward and still one-on-one with your physical therapist. You and your physical therapist will design a customized treatment plan that works for you and that will achieve your goals.

    How can it be prevented?

    DDD usually is a natural result of aging. Research has not yet shown how to prevent it—but you can make choices that lessen its impact on your life and slow its progression. Many physical therapy clinics conduct regular educational seminars to help people in the community learn to take care of their backs and necks. These seminars often are free and provide demonstrations along with written information about exercises for the back and neck, instruction on proper lifting and sitting postures, and other tips to keep your back healthy.Your physical therapist can help you develop a fitness program that takes into account your DDD. There are some exercises that are better than others for people with DDD, and your therapist will educate you about them. For instance:

     

    • Exercising in water can often be a great way to stay physically active when other forms of exercise are painful.
    • Exercises involving lots of twisting and bending need to be avoided in some individuals.
    • Weight training exercises, though very important, need to be done with proper form to avoid stress to the back and neck.

    What are the next steps?

    Getting started is simple. The first step, and the key to getting you pain free again, is to solve the root cause or your case of pain. Remember, not all pain is the same. Your pain is different than someone else’s pain, even though it may be in the same area. If you’re ready to get pain free, give us a call at (407) 494-8835 or fill out the form below. The next step is to schedule your evaluation so we can solve the root cause for you. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have and we would love the opportunity to help you.

    BECOMING PAINFREE  IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK

    Step 1:

    Call our expert team.

    Step 2:

    We’ll work with you to find and treat the root of your pain.

    Step 3:

    Get back to doing what you love.

    Call us to schedule your appointment

    (407) 494-8835
    (407) 494-8835

    Ask one of our Board Certified Specialists a question about your pain. Just fill out the form below.