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Degenerative discs

Spine Health | Last Active: May 14 9:08am | Replies (6)

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@chma265 Hello. I would like to welcome you to Connect. I am a spine surgery patient. I had a fusion of C5/C6 because of a herniated disc and bone spurs that caused spinal cord compression. That happened years after a whiplash. I had a bulging disc for years that didn't cause issues until it ruptured, and then the body responds with inflammation and grows bone spurs to try to stabilize it. As we age, it is normal for discs to dry out a bit and shrink. When a disc is damaged in an accident, there can be small cracks that later open up when it dries with aging that can cause it to rupture. That is what happened to me.

I did ask my surgeon how to prevent needing his services again for spine surgery in the future, and he told me the best thing I can do is maintain my core strength because it supports the spine. Some degree of disc degeneration happens to most people with aging, but it doesn't necessarily cause pain or dysfunction. Posture is really important for the spine because poor slouching posture will just put more pressure on the discs because they have to cushion the spine through all of its motion. Good posture stacks the vertebrae in a way that takes less effort to maintain. Discs can start allowing vertebrae to slip past each other if something goes wrong. Adults can develop scoliosis later in life too.

One suggestion I could make is to work with a physical therapist to build core strength and address any movement or alignment issues that could affect the spine. If you already have a diagnosis from a specialist with imaging, a physical therapist may need to see that. What helps me a lot with core strength is my chores taking care of horses and horse back riding. Mainly, I just ride on trails at a walk, and that is good exercise because my back has to compensate for the walking motion of the horse, and during summer, my back is much stronger because I can ride more often. Physical de-conditioning can lead to fatigue and pain. Pelvic alignment and dysfunction can also mimic a spine problem and is really exhausting if it is out of alignment. I have had my pelvis twist out of alignment which caused extreme leg and back fatigue if I walked very far. Physical therapy resolved that issue.

Here is a link to an article written for physical therapists that explains some of these issues.

Have you discussed your physical limitations with your doctor? Typically a doc would send you to physical therapy if pain was limiting your daily activities. Spine surgery can make things worse, so it should be a last resort to correct a structural spine issue. Spine surgeons can't always promise to cure pain; they fix the dysfunction as best they can, but surgery is a compromise between an abnormal situation, and some degree of hoped for improvement with an intervention. In my case, I had spinal cord compression and only surgery could fix that, and the compromise is that I lost motion at one level in my neck because I have one larger fused vertebra instead of 2 smaller normal ones. Other discs can be affected after spine surgery compromises normal movement in what they call adjacent segment disease. I am 5 years out and don't have adjacent segment disease. Adjacent segment disease has been a question of what happens first, multiple discs that were already affected before any surgery, or was it caused by extra strain on discs because part of the spine is immobilized by spine surgery? Some patients go through more motion limiting spine surgeries as time marches on.

Do you have radiology imaging reports that indicate your spine is physically getting worse, or was your comment related to your level of pain? Have you been evaluated by a spine specialist?

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Replies to "@chma265 Hello. I would like to welcome you to Connect. I am a spine surgery patient...."

Very interesting reading your experience. I was in physical therapy for the past year for 2 problems: Degenerative discs in lumbar (bothersome and limiting and I walk slightly bent over leaning right). Having been athletic all my life (I am 80 - but I do not look, act, think or feel like it - I am not in serious pain (but I never seem to feel pain much anyway). But walking is difficult for more than 5 or 10 minutes - NOT due to pain, but due to back muscles sort of having a "spasm" and my back feels WEAK. If I sit all day I feel great. Re my neck which acted up same time as back, well that was VERY PAINFUL. After 9 months of PT and excercises, my neck is 85% improved so I am OK with that. But my back prevents sports and even walking is 10 to 20 minutes at a time, depending on each day. I have been told for a long time I have scoliosis, but it never had meaning until now. I have heard from you now and others that back surgery is a real problem. What can a person do? Should I spend all day - every day - exercising? Is this not going to ever change?

These issues have been present mildly for several years. However, I recently moved to a new state to be nearer my children and grandchildren. I have moved many times, but this time was FULL OF MAJOR STRESS for 2 years due to MANY circumstances. I have a life; I drive; go to library and movies and events and work out at the YMCA. So that is good. But i must do something about my back. I am thinking of going to Cleveland Clinic since I live now near Pittsburgh (2 hours away). I do not feel my local doctors will have the experience, background, support and perhaps state-of-the-art medical training as Cleveland Clinic. I need a good MRI. I have not done a closed MRI which I know presents
best results (mild claustrophobia). I did an old-fashioned sitting MRI which felt great - but I guess the results were not the best. I like Open MRI's but that is not as revealing as closed - so I am committed to now do the best MRI I can find.

My mother lived until 91 but her last years were absolutely awful Her body sort of gave up. She was tallish and slender; had a busy life; but she was an artist, a sewer and reader - so her activities were not body-building like mine. I do not want to live that kind of life where the body "caves in" for lack of a better term.
Back to STRESS -
as soon as I have a stressful situation, immediately my neck starts hurting (but not my back).
I am happy and content enough with life EXCEPT FOR THIS DETERIORATION OF BODY AND PEOPLE WONDERING WHAT IS WRONG. This all became worse during the 2 years of high stress. I am waiting to see if I get any better as I have less stress over time.
So, generally, would you all say the prognosis is not good for my condition.?

One nore item. I have a VASCULAR condition in my legs. Veins are having difficulty
returning blood to my heart. Veins in my ankle would suddenly burst and a steady stream
of blood would shoot out. But now I wear compression socks most of the time - so vascular
seems to be under control. I have also had 2 TKR's in 2015 and 2019 (due to 30 yrs of tennis which I LOVED - but they were NOT painful and my recovery was quick. That was nothing compared to present day. The only med I take for back is one Meloxicam a day (or sometimes Tylenol). It does not help much and i am worried about how it can affect liver/kidney. Should I take more of that??

Again, apologies for anyone who may read this rambling. All thoughts welcome - and I thank you.

I wouldn't even allow myself to write to Mayo Clinic until I was able to control some things and until my live upheaval was more under control.
Sorry for this long narrative.