Degenerative disc disease in injured workers is only diagnosed after the worker goes to a doctor because symptoms have gotten to the point where he or she cannot deal with them on their own anymore. This point is likely years after the degenerative process has been slowly developing. Its important to recall that we all have degenerative disc disease to one degree or another. Our focus here is the employee who has a physical job in which his or her job duties have contributed to the acceleration of the degeneration.
How do doctors diagnose the problem? Diagnosis begins with a complete history and physical exam. The doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and how your problem is affecting your daily activities. The doctor will also want to know what positions or activities make your symptoms worse or better. This is the very important point where the worker should inform the doctor or therapist if their job duties contribute or in any way affect his or her symptoms.
Then the doctor does a physical examination by checking your posture and the amount of movement in your low back. Your doctor checks to see which back movements cause pain or other symptoms. Your skin sensation, muscle strength, and reflexes are also tested.
Doctors rely on the history and physical exam to determine which treatments will help the most. X-rays are rarely ordered on the first doctor visit for this problem because low back X-rays can show nonsymptomatic degeneration.
If symptoms are severe and are not going away, the doctor may order an X-ray. The test can show if one or more discs have started to collapse. It can also show if there are bone spurs in the vertebrae and facet joints. Bone spurs are small points of bone that form with degeneration.
When more information is needed, your doctor may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The MRI machine uses magnetic waves rather than X-rays to show the soft tissues of the body. It is helpful for showing if the tissues in the disc are able to absorb water and whether there are cracks inside the disc. It can also show if there are problems in other soft tissues, such as the spinal nerves.
Discography can help with the diagnosis. This is a specialized X-ray test in which dye is injected into one or more discs. The dye is seen on X-ray and can give some information about the health of the disc or discs. This test may be done when the surgeon is considering surgery, since it can help determine which disc is causing the symptoms.
McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin represent injured workers with degenerative disc disease.