If you slammed your finger in a car door, what would you do first? Would you open the door or take a pain pill and learn to live with it? New hope for those who suffer with degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis.
Pinching your finger in a car door is clearly a problem. A lot of pain, limited mobility; even breathing makes it hurt more. Certainly a pain pill would help. In addition, it's nearly impossible to sleep in that much pain so a sleeping pill would be of some benefit too. I'll bet your blood pressure would go up as a result, but no worries - they also have pills for that. If you're not very happy about all this you may need an antidepressant. But perhaps you could solve a lot of your problems by just opening the door.
What Problem Causes Back Pain?
The spine is a complicated structure and a long list of medical pathologies including kidney stones, ovarian cysts, infections, bone loss (osteoporosis), and many, many others can cause back pain. A complete history and a thorough examination can rule in or out a wide range of possible problems. Much more frequently, however, back pain is mechanical in nature meaning that the problem is that the complex interaction of the various joints, ligaments, and muscles necessary to bending and flexing in a multitude of directions as well as support an upright posture has been impaired in some way. Of course other joints of the body such as the shoulders, and more frequently because they are weight bearing, hips and knees, are also subject to mechanical dysfunction. The singular difference making mechanical dysfunction of the spine so much more serious is the proximity of the spinal cord and exiting spinal nerve roots.
Back muscles that are chronically tight or spasmed due to overuse or frequent injury limit the motion of the vertebral joints which over time can result in a progressive drying out (desiccation) of the intervertebral discs which depend upon normal motion, or a pumping action, to move fluid and blood flow through them. The opposite causes problems too - muscles that are too lax due to lack of exercise or inadequate conditioning for the task being performed permit too much motion of the vertebral joints spraining the joints and straining the ligaments and muscles, which can conversely result in muscle spasms which, again, limits the motion of the vertebral joints leading to a drying out of the discs.
As a disc loses water content it begins to lose height and the vertebra get closer together compromising the space for the exiting spinal nerve root. A dry, thin disc is unable to do its job of absorbing shock further stressing the joint, and the supporting muscles and ligaments. The worse it gets the poorer its shock absorbing capability exponentially accelerating the process. Contrary to what one might at first suppose stress to these tissues does not result in a wearing away but instead results in a gradual buildup of calcium deposits otherwise known as osteoarthritis much in the same way that stress to the skin on the palm of your hand results in a buildup of skin cells otherwise known as a callous. This progression of disc desiccation, thinning, and osteoarthritis is called degenerative disc disease. The resultant narrowing of the space available for the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots is called spinal stenosis.
A healthy disc is very durable. Everyone has witnessed the spines of conditioned athletes endure tremendous stresses with no apparent harm, but a degenerating disc is vulnerable to injury from even everyday activities. It gradually weakens to the point where it begins to bulge around all or most of its circumference due to the weight placed upon it from above. Most of this weight is anatomically directed toward the posterior aspect of the disc which is, unfortunately, proximate to the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots and here a herniation or protrusion often occurs as a inevitable consequence of the gradual degenerative process or suddenly as in a fall, heavy lift, or other mechanical stressor.
Remember, space for the spinal cord and nerve root has already been compromised as a result of the vertebra becoming closer together, further comprised by hypertrophy of the ligaments and spasm of the supporting musculature as well as a general bulging, and now a sudden or gradual protrusion of disc material literally crushes the nerve against the corner of the bone, a pinched nerve. That's a problem.
Spinal Decompression Therapy
In the past, a patient suffering from disc problems was usually given pain medications or injections, instructed to refrain from physical activities, referred to physical therapy for exercise, and when they weren't progressing they were sent for spinal surgery or simply told to learn to live it. Since 2001 when the FDA finally approved non-surgical spinal decompression therapy, there is new hope for those who suffer from degenerative disc disease. Spinal Decompression Therapy is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment performed on a special, computer controlled table similar in some ways to an ordinary traction table. A single disc level is isolated and by utilizing specific traction and relaxation cycles throughout the treatment, along with proper positioning, negative pressure can actually be created within the disc. It works by gently separating the offending disc 5 to 7 millimeters creating negative pressure (or a vacuum) inside the disc to first pull the protruding disc material back inside the disc and away from the nerve, but more importantly pull water, oxygen, and nutrients into the disc, thereby re-hydrating a degenerated disc and bringing in the nutrients needed to heal the torn fibers and halt the degenerative process. As the disc is re-hydrated the shock absorbing properties are restored and a normal life can be resumed. Many times at least some of the lost height can be restored as well.
Dr. Michael L. Hall, D.C. practices at Triangle Disc Care in Raleigh, North Carolina specializing in Spinal Decompression for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and back pain due to herniated, degenerated discs. This is a conservative procedure for patients suffering with bulging or herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome, sciatica, failed back surgery syndrome, and non-specified mechanical low back or neck pain.