Lumbar degenerative disc disease diagnosis treatment begins with conservative, nonsurgical measures. Whenever possible, doctors prefer treatment other than surgery. The first goal of nonsurgical treatment is to ease pain and other symptoms so the patient can resume normal activities as soon as possible. This may include a return to work light duty with work restrictions to protect the low back.
Doctors rarely prescribe bed rest for patients with degenerative disc problems. Instead, patients are encouraged to do their normal activities using pain as a gauge for how much is too much. If symptoms are severe, a maximum of two days of bed rest may be prescribed.
Back braces are sometimes prescribed. Keeping the moving parts of the low back still can help calm mechanical pain. When a doctor issues a brace, he or she normally asks that the patient only wear it for two to four days. This lessens the chance that the trunk muscles will shrink (atrophy) from relying on the belt.
Patients may also be prescribed medication to help them gain control of their symptoms so they can resume normal activity swiftly.
If symptoms continue to limit a person’s ability to function normally, the doctor may suggest an epidural steroid injection (ESI). Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatories, meaning they help reduce pain and swelling. In an ESI, medication is injected into the space around the lumbar nerve roots. This area is called the epidural space. Some doctors inject only a steroid. Most doctors, however, combine a steroid with a long-lasting numbing medication. Generally, an ESI is given only when other treatments aren’t working. But ESIs are not always successful in relieving pain. If they do work, they often only provide temporary relief.
In addition, patients often work with a physical therapist. After evaluating a patient’s condition, the therapist can assign positions and exercises to ease symptoms. The therapist can design an exercise program to improve flexibility of tight muscles, to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, and to help a patient move safely and with less pain.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin McCormick Law Office attorneys represent workers with lumbar degenerative disc disease in workers compensation claims getting benefits for disability, loss of earnings and retraining. The injured worker may be working regular or light duty. In either case, the injured worker should tell the doctor and any physical therapist if the job duties aggravate back pain or leg pain or other symptoms of low back degenerative disc disease. This helps the doctor give honest and trustworthy advice. Physical labor at work can contribute to the aggravation of DDD and the doctor needs to know that. Next we will discuss possible surgical options.