Common Medical Myths about Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative Disc Disease is a condition in which one or more spinal discs wears excessively to the point of causing the thickness of the disc to be reduced. This loss of disc height results in more stress on the vertebrae above and below the disc. Wolff’s Law states that bone responds to mechanical stress by producing more bone. This is not a bad thing in the case of someone who is weight lifting. Bigger muscles mean more stress on the bones they are attached to, which means the bone will get bigger and stronger. In the case of Degenerative Disc Disease, the added stress on the vertebra is pathological and results in osteophytes a.k.a. bone spurs. Left uncorrected these bone spurs can grow and put pressure on nerves, restrict spinal motion and even fuse across the disc joint and immobilize the joint completely.
Degenerative Disc Disease is very common.
It’s true that it is more common the older you get but that does not mean it is “normal” as you age. As a chiropractor, it is VERY common for my patients to have some level of Degenerative Disc Disease. Often, Degenerative Disc Disease is found in an area of the spine with no symptoms. This is one of many reasons that it’s so important to take full spine x-rays on all our patients.
The medical community and some chiropractors still lack a basic understanding of this condition Degenerative Disc Disease. The biggest myths about Degenerative Disc Disease are deal with its cause. Medical doctors training is focused on emergency conditions and the elimination of symptoms with drugs and surgery. Unlike chiropractors, they often fail to understand how to treat the cause of chronic conditions like Degenerative Disc Disease because their method of treatment is limited to covering up the symptoms.
As a result of this misunderstanding, there are some myths about Degenerative Disc Disease that are prevalent and need to be addressed.
Degenerative Disc Disease MYTHS:
Degenerative Disc Disease is caused by old age.
- This is a common myth about Degenerative Disc Disease. Both doctors of medicine and chiropractic are guilty of perpetuating this myth. Degenerative Disc Disease is more common in the elderly. That does not mean that it is CAUSED by old age or that it is NORMAL. Common and normal are not the same thing.
- Degenerative Disc Disease has been shown to be a result of excessive stress on the disc due to abnormal biomechanics and spinal structure. A car with an abnormal alignment will cause uneven wear on the tires. A spine with an abnormal alignment will cause uneven wear to the discs and vertebrae. This is why Degenerative Disc Disease typically affects only one of two discs as opposed to the entire spine. Your discs and spine are all the same age. However, an abnormal spinal structure can cause one disc to experience excessive stress. This causes the disc to wear out, degrade, thin and essentially rot. When this happens the vertebrae that make up the joint undergo pathological changes like bones spurs. This is Degenerative Disc Disease.
It is RARELY caused by trauma like whiplash induced injury during a car accident.
- Chiropractors see a lot of patients injured by whiplash during a car accident. The severity of these types of injuries is often overlooked by the medical profession and undertreated by the chiropractic profession. Most commonly, whiplash can cause significant ligament damage to the neck resulting in a kyphotic (reversed curve) or reduced lordosis (normal curve). If left untreated or undertreated these abnormal spinal presentations WILL result in Degenerative Disc Disease at the area of ligament damage.
- WHY? Remember Degenerative Disc Disease is caused by excessive stress on the disc and joint from an abnormal spinal structure. Normal the weight of your bones, muscles organs, etc. is very evenly distributed throughout your spine and discs. Ligament damage and/or an abnormal change in the spinal curvature results in an uneven distribution of stress on the discs and spine. This causes a pathological stress to one or two discs in your spine.
MRI is needed to confirm Degenerative Disc Disease diagnosis
- MRI are certainly a superior form of diagnostic imaging. However, Degenerative Disc Disease is very easy to identify by a well-trained chiropractor. It’s even easier for a chiropractor who specializes in structural care. Structurally focused chiropractors are able to accurately measure and identify abnormal spinal shapes often before they cause Degenerative Disc Disease.
- MRI is helpful in providing more detail as to the state of the soft tissues and disc. This additional information is rarely necessary for a structurally focused chiropractor. The only way to correct the CAUSE of the Degenerative Disc Disease is to reduce the abnormal stress to the disc. This can only be done with chiropractic care that is capable of objectively changing the shape and structure of your spine. E.g. seeing the soft tissue detail via MRI is often a waste of resources. This information is not necessary to change the chiropractic treatment plan needed for Degenerative Disc Disease.
- Typically MRI is only helpful to determine the need for and planning of surgery for Degenerative Disc Disease. Thankfully surgery is very rarely necessary and should only be considered if structurally focused chiropractic care was not effective.
If you have been diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease, find a structurally focused chiropractor for help. There are a lot of treatment options like including spinal fusion, steroid injections, artificial disc replacement surgery, spinal fusion surgery, anti-inflammatory drugs. Only structurally focused chiropractic care can correct or improve the cause of the problem. Medical options are not bad but you need to understand that they are designed only to reduce the pain and symptoms and not fix the cause.