Using Corticosteroids to Treat Disc Degeneration

Using Corticosteroids to Treat Disc Degeneration

Lots of problems can cause back pain, including overexertion, heavy lifting, and even poor posture. But as you get older, other problems can lead to painful symptoms in your back and neck, including age-related changes in your spine’s shock-absorbing discs — a condition called disc degeneration.

Disc degeneration happens when your discs start to lose their natural “plumpness” and sponginess. About a third of people will have some degree of disc degeneration by the time they’re in their mid 30s, and by age 60, nearly everyone has some signs of the condition. 

At his practices in Carmel, Indianapolis, and Kokomo, Indiana, Jonathan Gentile, MD, uses a patient-centered approach to treat disc degeneration, focusing on relieving symptoms and improving overall spine health. Here’s how he can help you.

Disc degeneration: The basics

Spinal discs are like tiny shock absorbers, protecting your spine from jolts and impacts from walking, jumping, and other movements. Discs are filled with a gel-like material that helps cushion your spine bones and protect your sensitive nerves.

As we age, our discs lose some of their natural fluid, which means they can’t cushion and protect the way they used to. Discs begin to flatten out, decreasing the space between each pair of vertebrae.

This natural aging process can result in painful symptoms of disc degeneration, causing symptoms like:

Disc degeneration gets worse over time, and that means your symptoms will get worse, too. While surgery may be recommended for advanced disc degeneration, many people with mild to moderate symptoms respond very well to conservative treatments like corticosteroid injections.

How corticosteroids work

Corticosteroids are hormones that are naturally produced by the adrenal cortex — the outer part of the adrenal glands located near your kidneys. They’re completely different from anabolic steroids used by some bodybuilders to bulk up muscle mass. The corticosteroids that are used in medical treatments are synthetic — produced in a lab.

Corticosteroids have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Once they’re injected into the injury site, those properties go to work reducing swelling and other inflammatory effects associated with degenerative disc disease and herniated discs. 

The symptoms of disc degeneration are directly related to inflammation in and around the disc and spine. Inflammation is a natural part of your body’s natural healing process. 

However, in some chronic conditions like degenerative disc disease, the inflammatory cycle works overtime, actually causing damage rather than providing healing protection for your tissues. Corticosteroids help break this cycle to prevent painful symptoms and ongoing damage.

Corticosteroid treatment: What to expect

Corticosteroid injection therapy is typically recommended when pain medicine and physical therapy aren’t doing enough to relieve your painful symptoms. Most injections contain anesthetics in addition to corticosteroids to provide immediate pain relief along with long-term benefits.

Before treatment, you’ll receive a local anesthetic to numb the injection site. Dr. Chang uses a special X-ray device to precisely map out the injection site. Each injection takes just a few minutes.

Afterward, you’ll be monitored for a short period of time before being discharged. It’s normal to feel some discomfort at the injection site, especially once the anesthetic component wears off. It typically takes several days for the corticosteroids to take full effect. Although you should take it easy on your treatment day, most people can resume normal activities the day after.

Get help for your back pain

Degenerative disc disease is just one cause of back pain. Scheduling an exam and evaluation is the best way to find out what’s causing your painful symptoms, so you can finally find some relief.

To schedule your visit, call or book an appointment online, and learn how Dr. Gentile can relieve your painful back symptoms.

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