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Disc degenerative disease or herniated disc?

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Old 02-03-2009, 01:29 PM   #1
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Unhappy Disc degenerative disease or herniated disc?


I hope someone can shed some light on this as its really upsetting me

My mum has always had a healthy back. She has never had problems with it and is 48 years old.

About 8 months ago she had sudden lower back pain while she was sitting in a car as a passenger. The pain was quite severe for a couple of hours but disappeared the next day. She didn't lift anything heavy or do any awkward movements that could trigger the back pain.

About 6 weeks later she was on the sowing machine for about 1 1/2 hours and the pain returned and was worse than before. The Doctor prescribed painkillers and advised my mum to apply heat packs to her lower back.

My mum couldn't bend down and pick things up, she had to keep her back straight to keep the pain levels low otherwise the pain was really bad.

This pain remained for 3 weeks. My mum explained the pain as coming from the lower portion of the spine and it felt as if the bones are rubbing each other. The pain gets worse if she stands or sits for a long period of time or walks. Any sort of impact, even sitting in a car and driving over a speed bump aggrevates her back.

She has had sciatica twice where pain radiated to her right leg twice in the space of a month. The pain gets worse if she is cold and spreads throughout the whole back and the portion of the spine just above the lumbar also hurts when touched.

I would like to know whether she has Disc Degenerative Disease, a Herniated Disc or something else altogether?

Am I right in assuming that if she had degenerative disease then the onset of pain would have been gradual rather than spontaneous?

The doctors did an X-ray and said there is a small amount of arthritis but we are pushing for an MRI as it is more telling and arthritis is common in people of older age anyway so isn't really a tell tale sign of being the cause for the back pain as someone can show traces of arthritis in their lower back and be perfectly fine with no pain.

If there is any more information you require, please ask.


Last edited by Eiji; 02-04-2009 at 05:36 AM.

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Old 02-05-2009, 10:43 AM   #2
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Re: Disc degenerative disease or herniated disc?

Herniated disc can be part and parcel of DDD although not always the case. Everybody experiences degeneration of the spine eventually it is the outcome of natural aging. DDD really is not a disease.

Your mom possibly has a herniated or bulging disc. Most of the population has bulging discs and a number of people walking around not in pain have both bulging and herniated discs.

It was only after the invention of the MRI that this was known. A herniated disc can be the result of DDD or it can be the result of extreme stress being put on the spine. When the DDD is severe herniations no longer take place because the gel-like center of the disc is completely dried up and there is nothing left to herniate. Then the spine just gets stiff as it no longer has the flexibility that it had when you are younger.

Often when a disc herniates the pain can be sudden but then it gradually eases off. Pain can come back in sciatica attacks. Nerve pain from a herniated disc can take up to two years to completely settle down. That is pretty common. Once you have one of these "back" attacks whatever the cause you have to use good common sense when using your back. People with bad backs often cannot sit for extended periods of time because it increases the pressure on the lower discs of the spine.

Yes and sciatica pain can become chronic as so many on this board know so well. If there is no indication that your mother is getting worse instead of better so investigation will in all likelihood will not reveal anything that demands a surgical approach. Herniated disc material is usually reabsorbed into the body.

The standard approach is physio to strengthen the muscles of the spine. If your mom wants to avoid aggravating her back she has to take some precautions.

Do not sit for prolonged periods. Get up every so often and walk around. Do daily prescribed back exercises to strength her muscles. Do not lift any thing heavy and always bend your knees instead of your back when lifting even modest weight. Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees. If she is greatly overweight try to diet and lose weight.

Be patient backs take a very long time to get better. Not weeks and sometimes not months. Nerves can take up to two years to regenerate. From what you have said I don't believe that your mom has any significant nerve damage and that is what doctors always look for. I have many relatives with bad backs. They get racked with pain every so often, get better and then carry on.
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Old 02-10-2009, 04:57 AM   #3
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Re: Disc degenerative disease or herniated disc?

Thanks for your insightful post pooby

Something else I want to ask. Can you get pain in the lumbar vertebrae further up the spine due to a herniated disc? My mum experiences pain in some of the vertebrae, usually one at a time and different vertebrae but the pain isn't the same as the pain she experiences in the lower back.

Last edited by Eiji; 02-10-2009 at 06:42 AM.

Old 02-10-2009, 08:57 PM   #4
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Re: Disc degenerative disease or herniated disc?

If your mom is older than 50 she could have some issues with osteoporosis. That, in combination with disc problems, can cause some of the symptoms she has. As women get older often their bones are in jeapordy (especially the hip and spine) as the bones break more easily. Many elderly women (and men) will have back pain and end up with a compression fracture just due to bone density diminishing and gravity.

While degenerative disc disease does "grow" over time - there can be one wrong movement or maneuver that ends up finally causing the pain.

With my back I was fine one day and in pain the next (same occurred with my neck). The doctors said that it's likely the problem existed for a while and something finally cause the final slip of the disc to the wrong position/place.
Rt thumb fusion '13. R&L thumb arthroplasty '12 ; RT TKR & Bilat CTS' 11. Fusions: L5-S1('87), L4-S1('93), C5-C7('06), L3-S1('10), C4-C5('13). C5-C7 foraminotomy '08

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