Degenerative disc disease. Scary, or just like grey hair?

April 30, 2018

From spine surgeon and author Dr. John Hansom “A better term for “degenerative disc disease” would be “normally aging discs”. In his blog titled “Are you kidding me” (1) he goes on to say “it’s well documented that disc degeneration is not a source of back pain” and how a woman with these findings had ended up in the ICU after spinal surgery due to blood loss. Additionally there was only a 10% chance that the surgery could have helped her pain, but a 20-40% chance of it making her worse.

This was is probably done by a well-meaning medical profession missing the mark. In fact, Dr. Hanscom discusses a paper where the outcomes of 37 patients who in fact had spinal changes on imaging associated with pain, became painfree without surgery.

One of his main approaches is that of dealing with the person, and that person’s nervous system. The fact is, we can live with all sorts of “problems”, herniated discs, nerve compression's and more. Did you know that one study showed in 8.8% of the population a branch of the sciatic nerve passed right through the Piriformis muscle (2)? So every step that person took that muscle compressed the nerve. Yet, most don’t have pain. Fascinating isn’t it?

A lot of pain has to do with the state of our nervous system. At IPT we will always do a mechanical evaluation. More often than not we discover exercises or posture corrections that help alleviate, if not abolish the pain completely. However, sometimes we find out there is no clear mechanical cause. Dr. Hanscom reports “It’s been documented in over a 1000 medical articles that anxiety and depression are major factors in predicting a poor surgical outcome”. The mechanical part of pain can be an issue, and should be ruled out using conservative intervention such as Physical Therapy (like the McKenzie approach (aka MDT or Mechanical diagnosis and therapy) we use). However, sometimes there is more to pain management.

Are you working with a clinician that addresses all these components and knows the difference? How about someone with MDT training? If not, and you are still having pain, call us at (907) 561-1711 and take a step toward recovering.

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