Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease, also called DDD, is a term that refers to the anatomical changes of the spinal segments that occur from degeneration, or “osteoarthritis,” of the spine caused by injuries, aging and the effects of gravity. By the time we reach our mid-30s, almost a third of people will show some evidence of it. By 60, more than 90% of us have some disc degeneration.

Disc Problems.

As we age, the rubbery discs that cushion the spinal vertebrae can dry out, thin or even tear—or the gel-like core may bulge through the outer portion of the disc. Any of these changes can cause pain, inflammation and reduced mobility, and can impinge on the delicate nerves that exit the spine. Although many people have no symptoms of degenerative disc disease for a long time, it’s likely that as the condition advances, there may be pain—much like a cavity that starts in the tooth without any noticeable discomfort until it has advanced considerably. Chiropractors can help relieve the pain that may eventually accompany degenerative disc disease and help keep your spine flexible and functioning.

Characteristics of Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease most commonly occurs in the lumbar (lower back) region, which bears most of the body weight, but it can also develop in the cervical spine (neck) and the thoracic spine (upper back).

Herniated Disc.

The disc has a gel-like inner core surrounded by an outer ring. The inner part is about 80% water, but as it dries out over time it becomes less flexible (it’s also why we get shorter as we age). This puts more stress on the outer part of the disc, which can make it bulge and press against sensitive nerves. Sometimes the inner part of the disc pushes through a tear in the disc wall and touches nearby nerves. The gel contains inflammatory proteins that can irritate the nerves and surrounding structures.

The body may respond to the thinning of discs by developing bony growths called bone spurs, which can interfere with nerve transmission. They don’t always cause trouble, but in some rare cases they take up room in the spinal canal needed by the spinal cord and surrounding nerves. If the nerves in the spine become compressed (pinched), you can develop pain, weakness and/or numbness in the arms or legs.

While many people with DDD do not have pain or symptoms at all, most people with spine-related pain will have signs of DDD. When symptoms are present, they vary depending on the cause and location: Many people feel a dull ache, while others have sharp or even burning pain. The pain may extend down to the buttocks and legs, which is called sciatica.

With DDD, sitting usually causes the most pain because it puts more weight on your discs and surrounding structures. Standing for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces, can be difficult. Activities such as bending or twisting can make your pain worse, while lying down tends to relieve it, as can walking.

Chiropractic Treatment of DDD

Of the 22 million people who see a chiropractor each year, about a third of them go for back pain, and many of those people have degenerative disc disease. Chiropractors can help your back feel and move better. Chiropractic therapies can soothe irritated spinal nerves and help improve joint mechanics.

Chiropractors use different kinds of techniques, including:

  • Spinal manipulation: a precise and controlled thrust on joints that lack mobility or show abnormal motion.
  • Flexion-distraction: a gentle type of spinal manipulation that uses a non-thrusting technique and specialized table, usually employed for herniated discs and spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal.
  • Instrument-assisted manipulation: a gentle pinpoint force applied using a handheld instrument.
  • Trigger point therapy: applying direct pressure to painful points (knots) in the muscles to relieve tension.

Chiropractors also use tools to reduce inflammation, including:

  • Interferential electrical stimulation: a low-frequency electrical current that stimulates your muscles, reducing inflammation.
  • Ultrasound: sound waves sent deep into your muscles to create mild heat that helps reduce spasms, stiffness and pain—and also enhances circulation.

Chiropractors may recommend exercises to bolster in-office treatment and help prevent disease progression.

Degeneration cannot be reversed, and serious chronic cases of disc degeneration disease may need surgical intervention. If the degeneration is too advanced, chiropractors will assist in making the right referral.

What You Can Do

Taking good care of your spine and muscles can slow down and even help prevent the degeneration process. Just as you practice good dental hygiene and have regular dental checkups to prevent cavities, you can practice good “spinal hygiene” to avoid DDD. Seeing your chiropractor regularly and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle can help reduce or prevent DDD—movement is key to maintaining a healthy spine! Also, during a chiropractic evaluation, Chiropractors may be counted on to catch DDD in its early stages before it produces major symptoms.

If you’re concerned about DDD, chiropractors can help. Keep in mind that chiropractic visits are important even when you don’t have symptoms because they can catch problems you may not realize are there and stave off future problems.

Reviews By Our Satisfied Patients

  • "I've been coming to see Dr. Bob since 1984 for my back pain. After each visit, the vast improvement lasts about one whole month. Even after all these years, Dr. Bob continues to provide outstanding care for me, my children, and my grandchildren. I've referred several people to HealthWise Chiropractic, so they too can see the results I have. My favorite part of my visits is the friendliness and professionalism of the staff and doctors and, of course, the results I get that improve my daily living."
    Danny S.
  • "About ten years ago I was at the gym, I bent over and couldn't get up, the pain was horrible. I contacted Healthwise and Dr. Mike gave me an emergency appointment that evening. He did a complete physical and x-ray before he started any treatment. After my first treatment I was able to stand up and walk with minimal pain. With a few visits I was back to normal. I continued treatments as needed for the next several years.
    I see Dr. Bob regularly to stay fit and pain-free. He tests my strength and weakness to determine the best treatment. Our open discussion led him to help my acid reflux. I now exercise and walk as is essential for a septuagenarian.
    I told Dr. Bob that I was starting to get knee pain that I thought was arthritis; I didn't think chiropractic care could help. He told me about new equipment to help. I look forward to improvement.
    I was a skeptic of chiropractic care, now I would recommend HealthWise to anyone with chronic/simple pain. It worked for me. It can work for you!"
    Sherry B.
  • "I was very miserable with constant pain in my leg while knowing it had something to do with my back. My friend surprised me with an appointment with Dr. Bob. After being treated by Dr. Bob I knew right away it was exactly what I needed. I learned a lot through my conversations with the doctor. I am really thankful to Dr. Bob and his staff."
    Ed L.
  • "I had a very limited understanding of chiropractic care until I tried it for the first time 12 years ago. I came in with severe pain in my neck, which prohibited me from moving my head. I was greeted by a kind staff, had an exam and x-rays done on my first appointment followed by an adjustment. I felt so much better after my first adjustment and by following the treatment plan my headaches and migraines improved. My overall health has improved because of chiropractic care. Dr. Bob helps make sure that I am taking the right supplements to optimize my health and fitness performance. They have helped me with allergies, knee and shoulder pain, and earaches. I had no idea when I began my chiropractic journey just how much help the doctors and staff at HealthWise would be at improving my quality of life."
    Britt H.
  • "I have been a patient at HealthWise Chiropractic for over 20 years. In the past and currently I am seeing Dr. Bob, however, I have seen all docs at Healthwise. My general issues are usually seasonally related to sinus and allergies. Recently I have been receiving treatment for my hip and lower back. Dr. Bob zeros in on trigger points and quickly relieves my pain. He is a wealth of knowledge and offers help and suggestion on my health issues. The staff is friendly and helpful. I leave feeling better and I believe helps to keep my body aligned and energized. I have also come in after falls, injuries and surgeries. I truly believe my adjustments at the time added to a quicker recovery."
    Liz B.
  • "I have been a patient of Dr. Bob for two and half months. . I see him for an adjustment every two weeks. I started seeing a chiropractor for the first time in January 2021 while working in Florida for my continued lower back pain and chronic bilateral hip bursitis. Because my pain was mostly relieved with continued adjustments, I decided to continue with treatment when returning to Wisconsin. I have been very happy with my continued pain relief/adjustments at HealthWise. I highly recommend anyone with chronic back and neck pain to try chiropractic adjustments here at HealthWise. It will make your life better."
    Marianne V.
  • "Really enjoyed the different things that they can do for you and your pain management. Would highly recommend."
    Rhiannon P.
  • "I enjoy coming, getting readjusted and any additional therapies. It has made my life healthier and less stressful. If I have questions, they are answered at that visit. The staff is very professional, personable and friendly. I always look forward to my next visit with them. I am glad to be part of Healthwise Chiropractic family:)"
    Marcella L.
  • "DR MIKE IS A GREAT CHIROPRACTOR. HE TAKES THE TIME TO GIVE YOU A COMPLETE ADJUSTMENT IS TIME. HE IS ALSO A GOOD CONVERSATIONALIST. THANKS"
    RICHARD R.
  • "Dr. Mike is fantastic! He is very personable….will take time to really to your needs… I enjoy my visits…the maintenance has helped tremendously…..and he is there when the emergency pops up! Excellent Chiropractor!"
    Ann W.


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