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Degenerative Disk Disease

Osterhout Berger Daley > Disabling Conditions > Degenerative Disk Disease

Most people want to feel their best when they go to work. And there are some types of jobs that people simply can’t do with certain types of chronic conditions. For instance, problem with the disks in a person’s spine can make it painful to do certain types of work. In cases like these, knowing what kinds of accommodations are available from an employer can be invaluable, but people with degenerative disk disease should also be aware of what their limitations include and what kinds of disability benefits they can receive from the Social Security administration.

What Is Degenerative Disk Disease?

The disks between each of the vertebrae in the spine provide cushion, which prevents pain from the bones rubbing together. But these disks are also responsible for providing spacing around the nerves so that they’re not pinched. Degenerative disk disease occurs when these disks begin to wear away, often either becoming thin and compressed or moving out of the space between the vertebrae.

There are a few reasons that people’s disks begin to wear out. First of all, gravity compresses disks, and movement wears away at the disks. But it’s not just gravity that causes degenerative disk disease. As people get older, the disks begin to dry out and shrink. Or they get tears in them, which can expand. All of these factors can cause the disk in between the vertebrae to bulge out, causing pain as the disks are in the way of the nerves and are being irritated by the disks and vertebrae.

Being older, especially over the age of 60, is one risk factors for developing degenerative disk disease. In fact, most people over 60 have degenerated disks even if they don’t usually cause them pain.

Another risk factor for developing degenerative disk disease is having an injury that caused the disks to tear. For instance, people who are in a car accident are more likely to develop the disease, especially if they had any kind of pain directly after the car accident, such as the kind of pain that’s caused by whiplash.

Obese people are also more likely to develop the disease because the extra weight causes the disks to compress. Finally, people who lead a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop degenerative disk disease because it’s harder for oxygenated blood to reach the disks and nourish them with oxygen to keep them healthy and alive.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disk Disease

A sharp pain that’s either come and go or consistent is one of the most common symptoms of degenerative disk disease. Some people might find it more difficult to sit but feel less pain when they’re walking around. Additionally, many people with this disease are most likely to feel the pain in the lower back, buttocks, or upper thighs.

There are also plenty of people who feel better when they lay down or change positions. While the pain can be sharp and debilitating, it might also be more of a nagging pain that’s bearable but chronic. And most people will experience more pain when they have to twist or bend. Many people feel better when they lay down, and changing positions can often alleviate pain and discomfort.

Muscle spasms and pins and needles sensations are also possibilities. Muscles spasms can be short as the nerve is only irritated for a short period or time. Or they can be long, creating a painful feeling of compression as the muscles contract around the arm or another part of the body. In rare and severe instances, some people even begin to have incontinence and bowel problems because the nerves that control those functions are cut off.

Treatment for Degenerative Disk Disease

A Laminectomy is a type of surgery in which the lamina is removed to provide the spinal cord more room so that there isn’t the rubbing, which is what is causing the pain. Another type of surgery is called a spinal fusion. In this type of procedure, one or more vertebrae are fused together so that they can’t move anymore. Because surgery is both expensive and involved, it’s usually not the first course of treatment that a doctor will suggest. Generally, non-invasive techniques are preferred as the first methods to manage back pain caused by degenerative disk disease.

Physical therapy is one type of non-invasive treatment in which a doctor teaches the patient exercises, including stretches and ways to strengthen the muscles, as a means of supporting the spine.

Weight loss might also be helpful to some people with degenerative disk disease because the weight loss will take pressure off the spine. Exercising in general can also aid in pain relief. Quitting smoking can also be helpful because quitting will encourage circulation so that the spine can heal more easily.

Some doctors might also prescribe medications, such as pain relievers, muscle relaxers, narcotic drugs, and steroids. Epidural injections to the site of the pain can reduce inflammation so that nerves are less irritated. Massages can improve range of motion so that people can move more without pain, and an ultrasound can help bring blood flow to the affected area so that the body can heal more quickly. Finally, a TENS unit is a device that sends vibrations to the affected area to hopefully reduce the amount of pain that the person experiences.

Disability Benefits for Degenerative Disk Disease

People who are having some pain because of degenerative disk disease might wonder if they’re eligible for benefits through the Social Security Administration. The answer isn’t entirely simple because having degenerative disk disease doesn’t mean that a person is always eligible for disability benefits. In the vast majority of cases, people with degenerative disk disease are unable to receive benefits because with simple changes, they’re able to manage their pain. In order to qualify for benefits, an applicant needs to to show that they’ve tried other means of resolving pain issues and have been unsuccessful. They also need to show that the disease severely impacts their ability to work.

In order for a claim to potentially qualify for disability benefits, the applicant must have a compressed nerve root that causes spinal pain, muscle weakness, limited spinal movement, or loss of reflexes. Otherwise, confirmed spinal arachnoiditis that causes a person to need to change positions every two hours could qualify someone. Finally, lumbar spinal stenosis, resulting in weakness, pain, and other symptoms that can’t be alleviated with treatment.

Many times, people with degenerative disk disease need to apply for the medical-vocational allowance by taking a residual functional capacity test. Going through this process allows people who have severe problems with working to apply even if they don’t fit into a specific category. When going through this process, the applicant will work with their doctor to track all of their limitations. Then, the applicant will send the list to the SSA, which will then compare that list to all jobs that the applicant has done in the past to determine whether or not there’s any work available that the applicant could do. If there isn’t, then there’s a good chance that they’ll be approved for SSA disability benefits.

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