Degenerative Disc Disease

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Degenerative Disc Disease | St. Louis | DDD

What is a Disc?

Spinal discs are shock absorbers that are found between each vertebra that allow for movements at each individual joint, such as flexion, extension and rotation at the waist as they act as a pivot point for the trunk to twist upon. Because they have a tremendous blood supply and free nerve endings, in most cases discs are able to be repaired non-surgically. Often a patient who has disc problems will choose the “do nothing and wait and see if it gets better on its own” approach. In most cases the body will start the healing process and over time the patient may feel a little better. They still live with a low grade pain that is always there and at times debilitating pain where they can barely move or get out of bed. This is classic degenerative disc disease in St. Louis. It is characterized by what is called exacerbations and remissions, meaning the excruciating pain comes and goes and is usually tied to an incident where the patient lifted something to heavy or turned the wrong way, thereby tearing more disc material. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself but in most cases it needs some assistance.


Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

  • Pain that is worse when sitting.
  • Periods of severe pain that come and go. Pain lasts from a few days to a few months before getting better. The pain can range from nagging pain to severe, disabling pain.
  • Feeling less pain while changing positions often or lying down.
  • Feeling better while walking or running rather than while sitting or standing for long periods of time.
  • Pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting.
  • Pain can affect the low back, buttocks and thighs or the neck, depending on where the affected disc is, radiating to the arms and hands or legs and feet.
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities.
  • Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop may be a sign that there is damage to the nerve root.

Types of Degenerative Disc Disease Seen in St. Louis

Bulging Disc

A bulging disc occurs when one of the discs between your vertebrae develops a weak spot and pops out beyond its normal perimeter. Interestingly, many people in St. Louis might have a bulging disc and not even know it, as long as the bulging area does not press upon surrounding tissues. When the bulging disc impinges on the nerves of the spinal column, that’s typically when symptoms begin. In the low back it can start out as simple low back pain and as more disc material becomes torn and more inflammation occurs symptoms will progressively get worse; for example, pain radiating into the buttock and legs can then progress into numbness and tingling in the legs, feet and toes. In the upper back and neck, the pain would radiate from the neck down the arm and to the fingers.


Ruptured Disc or Torn Disc

As degeneration progresses and the outer wall of the disc continues to weaken, the disc becomes at risk of escalating to a ruptured disc, also called a torn disc, where the outer wall breaks open and the interior gel-like fluid leaks out. When this occurs, pressure is put on nerve roots exiting the spinal cord or on the spinal cord itself, causing pain and other disabling symptoms. This is the natural progression of every bulging disc, after all it is called Degenerative Disc Disease. This is also the reason that the "wait and see if it gets better on its own approach” is the wrong approach because over time and with neglect the disc will progress to a fully herniated or ruptured disc and once a disc is ruptured the likelihood that it can be repaired non-surgically is greatly reduced.  Most patients in St. Louis have disc bulges and can be treated non-surgically, typically the pain associated with a disc bulge is very intense and most patients will seek treatment before it progresses to a full blown herniation.


Herniated Disc

A common non-contained degenerative disc disorder is a herniated disc, which has ruptured, usually at its weakest point. The fluid inside herniated discs is an irritant to the delicate soft tissues of the spinal cord, none the least being the nerves. Nerves that have become exposed to this fluid often swell in response. In some cases, parts of a herniated disc’s tough outer shell can break off into the spinal canal, causing further irritation.


The vast majority of herniated discs in St. Louis occur in the lower back or lumbar region. When a lumbar herniated disc presses on a nerve root, it can cause radiating pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in other areas of the body, including the buttocks, leg, ankles and toes. Cervical, or neck, discs that have herniated can cause radiating pain and numbness down an arm and into the wrist and hand. Other types of symptoms include shoulder pain and numbness, as well as muscle and reflex weakness.


Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment

With the help of Cox Flexion-Distraction, the doctor can slowly separate the bones, reducing pressure within the spinal discs. This decompressive traction technique is the original technique developed over 100 years ago and is still the most effective technique for reducing bulging disc in St. Louis. Other people have developed new decompression machines based on the Cox table utilizing the latest technology including computers and mechanized tables. Each time someone develops a new technique for dealing with bulging discs, they must change the design slightly so that they don’t infringe on the original patent design of the Cox table. Each time these design changes are made these new machines lose some of their effectiveness. Cox remains the most effective and efficient treatment for the treatment of DDD in St. Louis. We see patients in our office every week that have tried these other traction devices and they are still not better. We are able to help these patients as long as the discs are not fully ruptured. If the patient has procrastinated to long their only option may be surgery.


During treatment, negative pressure is created, forcing water, oxygen, blood and nutrients into the disc — rehydrating the degenerated disc. Repeated decompression treatments retract the gel-like core back to the center of the disc. Cox decompression relieves direct pressure on the nerve caused by the disc degeneration and feels great. Cox Flexion-Distraction is only one tool that we use in our office to relieve the pain of DDD and halt the degeneration process. The key to our high rate of success in our Maplewood office in treating DDD is that we use every tool available to us to repair the problem.


Chiropractic spinal manipulation is used to restore the normal structure and function of the spine. In the initial stages of care ice is used in the office as a local anti-inflammatory. Every patient is taken through a full course of rehabilitation or physical therapy to strengthen the tissues that support the spine (muscles, ligaments, tendons). Acupuncture is also employed to increase blood flow to the area, decrease inflammation, decrease muscle spasm and speed up the healing process. It is this comprehensive approach to DDD treatment in St. Louis that gives us better than a 98% success rate with the treatment of DDD.


Are you seeking relief for degenerative disc disease, sinus, or migraines in St. Louis?

Dr. Sean Branham is well versed in the intricacies and mechanics of degenerative disc disease. As a chiropractor in St. Louis, he has developed systems to provide you with relief from your symptoms.