What Is the Best Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease?
Also known as arthritis of the spine, degenerative disc disease describes conditions in which there is progressive damage to the intervertebral discs. This is typically due to a result of gradual wear and tear of the spine with aging and is most common among older populations.
Though the exact cause is unknown, influential factors may include physically demanding work that involves lifting, smoking, obesity, family history of spine problems, or injury to the spinal discs. Degenerative disc disease is more common among women than men and the risk increases with age. Almost every adult will experience some form of spinal disc degeneration though not everyone will experience pain.
The most common symptoms include neck and back pain that can radiate down to the arms, legs, and buttocks. Some may experience more severe pain than others. Weakness in the leg muscles may also occur as well as numbness in the arms or legs.
There are numerous treatments and therapies that may be suggested for short-term pain relief and long-term rehabilitation. These may include nutritional supplements, physical therapy, acupuncture, injections of corticosteroids, medications, low impact activity, and hot and cold therapy . Surgery is not always necessary.
Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight are also important factors to address as prevention and to keep the back healthy. Low impact exercises, in particular, can help to strengthen the surrounding muscles, increase blood flow delivering nutrients and oxygen to the damaged areas, and reduce swelling. Certain core exercises and stretching can be particularly beneficial in reducing pain and complementing other treatments.
Though there is no "cure" for this condition, you can reduce the symptoms associated. Nutritional supplements may provide additional support in the treatment of degenerative disc disease.
Supplements Recommended for Spine Health
The most abundant protein found in the human body, collagen acts as a "glue" that holds the body together. It makes up our connective tissue and is found in the spinal column, bones, cartilage, joints, skin, and tendons.
The body requires collagen in order to repair damaged tissues and discs.This protein is important for the maintenance of spinal health and bone health.
Supplemental collagen may help to lower inflammation, support joint health, and reduce pain. It has been shown to improve conditions such as osteoarthritis, sarcopenia, and osteoporosis and ease symptoms such as joint pain, reduced mobility, and joint degeneration (2)(3)(4).
More research is needed to assess its use in the treatment of degenerative disc disease.
Though collagen is produced naturally by the body, production declines as we age but it can also be impaired by smoking, excessive sun exposure, excess alcohol, and lack of sleep.
You can find collagen in foods such as bone broth or you can supplement. Pain-relieving benefits will most likely be felt at upwards of 10 grams per day.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for good health, including spinal health. Vitamin D receptors have been identified in the spinal cord and it has been shown to affect sensory neurons and the modulation of pain (7)
Research suggests that vitamin D can greatly improve intervertebral disc degeneration by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the intervertebral disc, delaying cell aging and inhibiting cell death (8).
A study assessing the role of vitamin D in the treatment of disc herniation of the lumbar spine, suggests that vitamin D3 may be an effective treatment at reducing the severity of discogenic pain (9).
Vitamin D status may impact the risk and severity of lower back pain and disc degeneration. Research suggests that vitamin D blood levels of below 10 ng/mL can be considered as an indicator of severe disc degeneration and lower back pain (10).
Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be highly prevalent among patients with degenerative diseases of the spine. Thus, it is likely wise to verify vitamin D levels with your healthcare provider and adopt prevention strategies such as supplementation when needed.
Glucosamine is a compound found naturally in the body, and more specifically in cartilage. As a supplement, it is often used to treat disorders of the joints and inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (11)(12)(13).
Glucosamine may work to prevent or slow joint cartilage breakdown and protect joint tissue.
Studies assessing long-term intake of glucosamine combined with chondroitin sulfate showed promise at counteracting symptoms of spinal disc degeneration, especially when treated early (14). Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may help to alleviate existing joint pain with very few side effects.
The joint protective effects of glucosamine suggest that it may be a worthwhile option to explore in the treatment and prevention of conditions such as degenerative disc disease.
A popular dietary supplement used as an anti-inflammatory agent, MSM can help to decrease pain and degeneration of the joints while improving joint function and improving quality of life particularly in the aging population (15).
It is also involved in collagen production and supports the repair of joints, tendons and ligaments. MSM is often included as part of a dietary supplement plan for arthritis and degenerative joint disease because it supports new joint and muscle tissue formation, lowers inflammation that can contribute to pain and swelling, and improves mobility and range of motion (16).
Further research is necessary to clarify if MSM is of potential benefit for spinal degenerative conditions (17).
These anti-inflammatory mechanisms may benefit degenerative disc disease as the tissue inflammation that occurs in this condition may require increased needs for vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency may play a contributing role in the development of this disease, particularly in the elderly.
Epidemiological evidence has indicated an association between suboptimal vitamin C status and spinal pain, further suggesting that vitamin C supplementation may provide analgesic effects and decrease chronic pain in many conditions (18).
In addition, this vitamin is needed for collagen production, and deficiency in vitamin C can result in decreased collagen synthesis and defective connective tissue and structural stability (19).
Vitamin C appears to be a safe and cost-effective adjunctive therapy for acute and chronic pain relief in many conditions and combatting degenerative disease.
Herbal remedies may also be used as a form of alternative treatment in conjunction with other therapies to treat chronic pain and degenerative conditions.
The herb cannabis sativa has many therapeutic properties known to alleviate pain in a variety of conditions. The particular non-psychotropic compound found in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), may be of particular benefit to relieving pain and symptoms associated with degenerative disc disease due to its protective and anti-inflammatory properties. Research reveals the anti-degenerative effects of cannabidiol are promising and already being used to treat neuropathic pain, suggesting it might be a natural and safe treatment for degenerative disc disease pain (20).
Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound and the active ingredient found in the herb and spice, turmeric. It also possesses antioxidant and neuroprotective properties and is often used to treat and alleviate inflammatory conditions as well as chronic pain.
An animal study showed that curcumin appeared to prevent tissue injury in rats with lumbar intervertebral disc degeneration (21).
Curcumin possesses multiple biological functions and targets multiple inflammatory pathways that have proven beneficial in the treatment and management of pain and inflammation (22). Its pain relieving effects have even matched or outperformed pharmaceuticals, without the side effects (23).