Back pain can creep up on you unexpectedly. While you may have been able to carry heavy boxes in your youth with no issue, at age 50 you may find yourself wincing in pain from simply pushing yourself off your bed or couch too quickly. Your back was also probably capable of mending itself relatively quickly in your teens and twenties. By the time you reach middle age, those same conditions that were no problem growing up can now flare up and cause you chronic pain.
Though the symptoms of back pain are straightforward, the exact type you have isn’t always so easily identifiable. You’ll likely need the help of a medical professional to determine if you have discogenic back pain or some other kind of discomfort.
What Is Discogenic Back Pain?
To understand why you have discogenic back pain, you first need to understand the general structure of your spine. All in all, humans have 33 vertebrae, which are made of bone. The bottom nine vertebrae are fused together, but the upper 24 vertebrae alternate with 23 intervertebral discs that provide cushion and support as you move, bend and stretch. The entire vertebral column houses our spinal cord, the bundle of nerves that connect our brain to the rest of our body.
Discogenic back pain is the catch-all term that refers to any type of pain radiating from your intervertebral discs. The intervertebral discs are composed of two parts:
· Annulus fibrosus – The outer, fibrous ring composed of several collagen layers. The outermost part contains nerves that can cause pain.
· Nucleus pulposus – The inner, gel-like core that disperses pressure. The nucleus pulposus has no nerves.
Essentially, any time the outer part of the annulus fibrosus is inflamed or irritated, you may experience discogenic back pain. Some reasons for this inflammation or pain include:
· Degenerative Disc Disease – Our spine generally weakens and loses hydration throughout our lifetime, increasing our chance for pain and injury later in life. It’s not yet understood why some people develop chronic back pain with age and why others experience hardly any pain at all.
· Internal Disc Disruption – An annular tear allows the nucleus pulposus to leak out into the outer part of the annulus fibrosus, causing pain.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
The most obvious symptom of discogenic back pain is any achiness, pain or spasming in your back, especially the lumbar (lower) region. The pain will typically get worse when sitting, bending, sneezing or coughing and improve when laying down or lightly exercising. Some people may also experience generalized pain in the buttocks, groin and thighs.
Some risk factors include:
· Older age, especially between ages 30 and 60
· Genetic predisposition to back degeneration
· Heavy physical workload and increased exposure to injury
Discogenic back pain shares symptoms with several other back problems, so your doctor must first perform one of several diagnostic tests to pinpoint the source of the pain. Option one is an MRI, which will create 3D images and cross sections of your back that the doctors can analyze. While painless, this procedure can be costly.
Another diagnostic tool is the controversial discography/discogram procedure. It involves injecting dye into the patient’s intervertebral disc and taking an x-ray image or CT scan to determine if it’s the root cause of their pain.
Discogram/discography is usually done after other treatment options have been exhausted or if the doctor is considering surgery. Some people question the value of this procedure because it is invasive, may put the patient in a significant amount of pain and may give false positives due to patients’ inaccurate reporting of their own pain.
Depending on whether the discogenic back pain is acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), a variety of treatments may be appropriate, including:
· Change in lifestyle – Sometimes, back pain will go away on its own. In the meantime, you can try icing, over-the-counter pain relievers and light exercise. Dropping weight, choosing to exercise and eating healthier food may also strengthen the muscles in your back, decreasing the pressure on your intervertebral discs.
· Non-medical treatment – Many people swear by the positive effects of yoga, tai chi, meditation and mindfulness for their back pain and prefer this to medicine or surgery. Some also enjoy the effects of acupuncture or massage.
· Medication – Anti-inflammatories and analgesics are the medicines most frequently prescribed for back pain. Anti-depressants may be used in cases of a pre-existing mental disorder or for depression brought on by chronic pain.
· Physical therapy – Patients may benefit from the guidance of a physical therapist who can teach specific stretches and exercises meant to strengthen the back or provide spinal traction treatment.
· Injections – For people struggling to find relief, corticosteroid injections can mask their pain. This is a short-term solution intended to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.
· Surgery – Surgery is typically a last resort due to potential complications. Spinal fusion is a common surgical treatment where two vertebrae are joined together, but this surgery is often unneeded and may not produce pain relief. It also increases wear and tear on the adjacent vertebrae and discs.
· Regenerative medicine – Regenerative medicine is a long-term solution focused on healing spinal tissue with stem cells and platelet rich plasma, which are both found in the human body. The idea is to get your intervertebral discs to fix themselves, rather than merely treating symptoms.
Get Relief from Discogenic Back Pain at Alamo City Regenerative Medicine
While there are many treatments for discogenic back pain, including steroid injections, invasive surgeries and prescription opioids, those treatments often cause unwanted and harmful side effects. That’s why we at Alamo City Regenerative Medicine prefer natural solutions, like adult stem cell treatments. Regenerative medicine is all about harnessing the human body’s natural healing powers to cure ailments and relieve pain.
Our board-certified doctors believe in interventional pain management, healing the source of your problem instead of simply masking it with short-term relief. We also approach every patient’s case with an individualized solution, as pain manifests itself differently in each person.
If you’re ready to get back to living a healthy, pain-free life, call us at (210) 941-1211 to schedule your initial consultation.