An estimated 40% of adults over the age of 40 have degenerative disc disease (DDD) to some extent. About 80% of 80-year-olds have DDD. It's a condition that’s can be hard to avoid, but not everyone will experience it in the same way. But what is degenerative disc disease? What are the symptoms and how can it be treated naturally?
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that occurs when the discs in your spine wear down. Discs are rubber-like cushions in between the bones in your spine. They prevent your bones from rubbing against each other, making it easier and more comfortable to bend, twist and move. Discs also act as shock absorbers.
Like other parts of the body, discs naturally wear down as you age. Degeneration is a normal part of the aging process, but once those cushions start wearing away, the bones in your spine start rubbing together.
The term “degenerative” is a bit misleading because it implies that the pain or discomfort will get worse with time. While the discs will likely continue to wear down over time, the pain won’t necessarily get worse.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Pain is the most common of the symptoms of degenerative disc disease. Most people experience pain and discomfort in their:
The way people experience pain can vary. For some, the pain may come and go for days, weeks, or months at a time. For others, the pain gets worse when they sit, bend or lift things.
Pain may radiate down the lower back or the buttocks.
Numbness and tingling are also symptoms of DDD.
What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease isn’t technically a disease, and it’s caused by natural wear and tear on your discs as you age.
After the age of 40, most people experience some form of disc degeneration. While everyone’s discs will wear over time, not everyone experiences pain.
You may experience pain in your discs if:
- The water at the core of your discs has dried out. It’s natural to lose some of that water as you age, and this can cause the disc to get thinner. Also, as the disc starts to wear down, it doesn’t provide as much shock absorption.
- Your discs become cracked or torn. Injuries can cause tears and cracks that can lead to pain. Even minor tears can be very painful. Cracks can cause your discs to bulge out of their natural position, and this can cause a herniated disc. In addition, herniated discs can compress on spinal nerves, causing severe pain.
- You have inflammation in the spine. Inflammatory proteins can make their way out of the discs as they degenerate, which can cause swelling along the spine. The inflammation itself can cause pain, but it can also lead to muscle tension and spasms.
Because aging is the primary cause of degenerative disc disease, there’s no real way to prevent it. However, not everyone will experience symptoms.
Protecting Against Degeneration
Unfortunately, you can’t stop the aging process. However, there are steps you can take to help protect your discs from degeneration.
The best thing you can do to protect your discs is to lead an active lifestyle. Adopt healthy lifestyle choices, like:
- Making sure you get enough vitamin D
- Exercising daily to keep your muscles strong and healthy
- Strengthening your core muscles to support your spine
- Eating a healthy diet rich in micronutrients, protein, and fat to nourish your discs
- Staying hydrated
Degenerative Disc Disease Home Remedies
If you’re already experiencing degenerative disc disease, you may be searching for natural ways to ease the pain and potentially slow the degeneration.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of many cannabinoids found in cannabis plants (that includes hemp!). CBD has been praised for its potential pain and anxiety-relieving effects. One advantage of CBD is that it doesn’t have psychoactive effects as THC does.
Cannabidiol appears to have natural analgesic effects, and its anti-inflammatory properties can also help with different types of pain including back pain. In addition, one study found that CBD had anti-degenerative effects in patients with intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration.
CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our body. ECS actually plays an essential role in maintaining your overall health and affects your digestion, mood, pain, stress, and metabolism.
CBD affects the ECS by increasing cannabinoid production. It also works to inhibit pain signals while reducing inflammation. CBD increases Anandamide levels in the body, which is a compound that’s associated with pain perception.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Alternating between hot and cold therapy can help ease symptoms of degenerative disc disease.
- Applying an ice pack to the painful area can help ease inflammation. If you don’t have an ice pack, you can use a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel.
- Applying heat to the affected area can help ease tension, reduce spasms and relax the muscles.
Hot and cold therapy is a natural way to manage the pain and discomfort of degenerative disc disease. Just make sure that you don’t apply heat or ice directly to the skin and only apply each type of therapy for 10-15 minutes at a time.
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit may also help with symptoms of DDD. TENS units send electrical pulses through the body that interrupt pain signals.
Most TENS units have wires that connect to electrode pads that are placed on the skin. The electrodes send the electrical signals through the body. Other TENS units will transmit signals directly over the skin.
Studies have shown that TENS units can be effective for back pain, although some of the research has been conflicting.
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that will affect most people as they age. The discs of the spine naturally wear down as you get older. You may or may not experience pain as your discs naturally wear, but if you do, you can use the natural remedies above to ease your discomfort.
Leading an active lifestyle, eating a healthy diet, and using natural pain relievers can help keep symptoms of DDD under control.
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