Often when it comes to chronic back pain or long term back problems such as degenerative disc disease we often think that only the elderly or the middle age suffer from these ailments. While it is true that degenerative disc disease does occur due to a lifetime of wear and tear on the back, this does not mean that those younger than 40 years of age are untouched by this disease.
When the discs in the back begin to deteriorate the pain will increase and sufferers may even experience numbness and a weakness in the lower back, legs and neck. A compressed nerve can cause sufferers intense pain, but oddly enough plenty of people with degenerative disc disease have no symptoms whatsoever. When this happens to those under 21 years old, it is referred to as juvenile degenerative disc disease.
The spine consists of the vertebrae and in between each bone is a tiny sac filled with fluid that we refer to as ‘discs’. Over time as we age or through repeated injuries, those discs grow weak and begin to leak fluid. Whether it is due to the disc being herniated or damaged through other back injuries, the discs begin to degenerate.
The spinal discs are unable to heal without assistance, which is why it is so important to seek medical attention or risk suffering the back pain your entire life. Leaving chronic back pain or acute back pain without treatment is exactly the type of situation that can lead to degenerative disc disease, and even more so in physically active—yet injured—juveniles.
DDD In Juveniles
While degenerative disc disease is not something which you can inherit, there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of disc problems such as heavy lifting, smoking, being physically active or obese.
One of the most common forms of disc deterioration for juveniles is lumbar disc degeneration. The lumbar region is your lower back area and part of this has to do with the common “teenage slouch”. This type of pain starts in the lower back and often radiates down the butt and thighs.
Only 20% of juveniles will experience lumbar disc degeneration, but those who do will begin to experience a rapid deterioration. Although young males will experience this deterioration more rapidly than young females, both genders are equally affected by juvenile DDD.
The onset of degenerative disc disease typically begins around the mid to late twenties, however those with the juvenile version of it will have suffered through chronic back pain throughout their teens. The deterioration can begin as early as mid-teens and it rapidly continues throughout late teens and early twenties. It was once believed that cancer or serious trauma caused juvenile lumbar disc degeneration, but we now know that is not the case.
How To Treat Juvenile Disc Deterioration
Due to the age of the juvenile sufferers it is more important than ever that they receive a diagnosis and treatment right away. At such a young age, these patients have a long life full of pain and suffering ahead of them without any back pain treatment. The discs will continue to deteriorate, and immediate treatment can slow down the deterioration process.
Most patients that have degenerative disc disease are able to seek treatment without resorting to surgery, but for juvenile sufferers surgery is often the best option. Despite the risks associated with surgery, it often provides the best source of relief for these young patients.
Before treatment can begin for lumbar disc deterioration, a diagnosis will need to be made. Typically an MRI is the tool used to diagnose the weakening discs. Since it is likely that juvenile sufferers have been experiencing lower back pain for quite some time, the MRI images will be compared to older images to take note of any changes to the spine, which will ensure the accuracy of the diagnosis.
Treatment for juvenile DDD often includes pain medication and anti-inflammatory medicines along with physical therapy and massage. As I said before, surgery is often a viable option for this young group, however physicians may be reluctant to utilize such an extreme option without exhausting other options first.
Juvenile DDD can wreak havoc on the back, which is why parents are encouraged to watch for signs of lumbar problems and ask questions about the pain so it can be monitored properly.