We must warn you at the outset that when it comes to self-treatment of degenerative disc disease, your doctor should have the floor first. Since this is especially important, do not be surprised that we will repeat this advice a few more times.
Your GP is the person who will advise you to try alternative methods or trust conventional medicine from the start.
But rest assured, in no case will your doctor refer you to the surgical method first. Because we all know that when it comes to treatment of this disease, spinal surgery is by no means at the top of the list!
If you have degenerative disc disease (DDD) a.k.a. discopathy, you will be familiar with the well-known feeling: back pain or neck pain when sitting or standing for a long time. But what can you do to deal with the pain? Luckily, there are many options for treating DDD. Your treatment plan will most likely include a combination of treatments, such as exercise, physical therapy, and medication.
- Walking and stretching for back health
Physical therapy and exercise are an important part of a DDD treatment plan. Your doctor may recommend a physiotherapist to teach you specific exercises to help you manage DDD.
Don’t have an ongoing exercise plan? You could, for example, start with walking – take a walk and do a few gentle stretches. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise plan.
- Acupuncture and herbal medicines
You may want to try alternative treatments for DDD, but see your doctor first. Alternative treatments can help you deal with back pain and help you increase your daily activities, but they can interact with other DDD treatments.
- Should you try spinal manipulation?
A visit to a chiropractor can help restore or maintain movement in the spine. There are numerous chiropractic techniques, but spinal correction is one of the most common. A series of chiropractic sessions may be needed to help you treat DDD. You must first have a treatment plan in place for your case.
Before attempting a spinal procedure or other chiropractic technique, your doctor will confirm that you have DDD and that your spine is stable.
- NSAIDs, antidepressants, and other drugs
There are many medications available to help you deal with your DDD symptoms. Your doctor will tell you which medicines to try and when and how often to take them.
Here is a list of some commonly used drugs for DDD:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (e.g. aspirin);
- Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol);
- Muscle relaxants, etc.
- Surgery – the last resort
Most people with DDD will not need surgery. But how do you know if you need it? If you have been trying non-surgical treatment for several months and those attempts have not reduced the pain and other symptoms of DDD, you may need spinal surgery. Your doctor will explain the possibilities for surgery.
Be alert for serious symptoms, such as tingling and loss of bowel and bladder control. If you notice these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.
Alternative treatments for degenerative disc disease (discopathy)
Alternative and integrative health professionals offer acupuncture and herbal therapies to relieve the symptoms of degenerative disc disease.
To treat pain and other symptoms of degenerative disc disease, you can consider alternative treatments. As the name suggests, they are alternatives to drugs, physical therapy, or surgery – the typical “Western” approach to medicine.
You may want to go to a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) specialist, also called an integrative healthcare professional. CAM is a somewhat extensive group of practices and therapies that are not considered part of conventional medicine by some health care providers. CAM or integrative therapies include traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, and massage. Many patients report that these treatments have really helped their condition.
Developed in China, acupuncture uses very fine needles – and without drugs – to treat pain. Practitioners believe that you have an energy force called your Chi (also spelled Qi, but both forms are pronounced “chee”).
When this force is blocked, you can develop a physical illness, such as back pain. Therefore, you need to release the qi channels of your body, which practitioners call your meridians. Acupuncture works to restore a healthy, energetic flow of qi.
Acupuncture needles are almost as thin as hair strands. Based on your symptoms and accurate diagnosis, the practitioner will insert the needles; you will most likely have multiple needles inserted during one session. The practitioner will focus on precise points in the meridians of your body, and the needles will remain for 20 to 40 minutes. Acupuncture needles are thought to cause your body to release certain neurochemicals, such as endorphins or serotonin, and they help with the healing process.
Before trying any herbal remedies, do some research and talk to your doctor. There may be side effects that you are not aware of – an herbal medicine may interfere with the prescribed medicine you are taking, for example. Some herbal remedies that can help you if you suffer from degenerative disc disease are:
- Devil’s Claw: Devil’s Claw comes from South Africa, where it has been used for centuries to treat fever, arthritis and gastrointestinal problems. It acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Today it is used for conditions that cause inflammation and pain, such as degenerative disc disease. You can take it in a capsule.
- SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine): SAMe is thought to be useful for age-related spinal diseases, such as osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease. As a bonus, there are several studies that show that it is also good for treating depression. (People suffering from chronic pain can become depressed because of how the pain changes their lives. Their chronic condition can also affect the chemistry of their body’s nervous system, leading to chemical imbalances and possibly depression.)
- White willow bark: White willow is actually the forerunner of aspirin use in Europe. If you do not want to take the synthetic version (aspirin can irritate the stomach), use white willow bark. It is used for conditions that cause pain or inflammation, such as degenerative disc disease (discopathy). It also provides relief for acute back pain.
- Prolotherapy: Some patients have tried this treatment and found that it works to reduce their pain from degenerative disc disease. Proponents of prolotherapy explain that one of the problems associated with DDD is weak ligaments and tendons. Strong, supportive ligaments and tendons are essential for your spine because they help maintain stability.
Once your discs begin to degenerate, essentially weakening your spine, your tendons must work very hard to support your back. Over time, however, they can also degenerate – wear out or even tear. This leaves your intervertebral discs without the necessary support.
Prolotherapy tries to stimulate the growth of new ligaments and tendon tissues. Prolotherapy aims to boost the healing process of the body with the injection of “proliferator” (a term used by prolotherapists – it is a slightly irritating solution). The proliferator causes inflammation, which tells the body to begin healing only by generating new tissue.
The prolotherapy injection goes directly into the problematic ligaments and tendons and several series of injections (and time) are needed to test the effectiveness. If you think prolotherapy may be an option for you, talk to your doctor.