Damaged Discs, Low Back Pain, and Antioxidants as Treatment

by LMatthews on September 12, 2013

degenerative disc disease low back pain from nerve growth axons to spinal cord

Disc damage can trigger abnormal nerve growth leading to back pain.

Lower back pain is among the most common reasons for visits to the doctor, with some 60-90% of people suffering from this during their lifetime. One of the major causes of low back pain is the growth of nerves into degenerated spinal discs. Healthy discs are connected to the nervous system in the outer layers of the disc but the more central parts of the discs are free of such sensory nerves. So, what triggers this abnormal nerve growth and what can be done to prevent it and relieve low back pain from degenerative disc disease?

Disc Degeneration and Nerve Inflammation

Discs are the shock-absorbers for the spine, and the presence of nerves in tissues that are squashed and squeezed and subject to frequent, unrelenting microtrauma can quickly result in significant and debilitating back pain. Keeping discs healthy can help prevent the inflammation that prompts abnormal nerve growth into the disc itself. As discs degenerate, the levels of proinflammatory substances such as tumor necrosis factor and interleukin 6 may increase, which promote the growth of nociceptive neural fibers into the discs.

Abnormal Spinal Nerve Growth

These newly extended nerves then begin to send pain signals back to the spinal cord as a result of the inflammation in the disc. Reducing the inflammation, blocking this pain signal, or even preventing the growth of such nerves by keeping spinal discs healthy and intact may all help to relieve or delay disc-related low back pain.

Options for treating this kind of disc pain include:


  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Injections of tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitor etancercept onto the spinal nerve
  • Antioxidant therapy to reduce production of reactive oxygen species and free radical damage.

In recent months, epidural steroid injections have faced increasing scrutiny due to contaminated drugs causing serious infections and fatalities. NSAIDs have a wide range of undesirable side effects, some of which may end up being worse than the original pain itself. Etancercept has been noted to have the potential for serious toxicity, so it is not recommended for general use in those with low back pain.

This leaves antioxidant therapy, which would appear to have only positive side effects, such as increased general wellbeing by reductions in systemic oxidative damage and inflammation. As the spinal discs degenerate cells die and trigger the production of reactive oxygen species, TNF-alpha, and interleukin-1 alpha and/or beta. These then prompt more nerve damage and abnormal growth. Treating the oxidative damage at the root may help lower inflammation, reduce abnormal nerve growth and relieve low back pain.

Some of the most powerful antioxidants known include natural astaxanthin, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and E. Scientists are also investigating the potential for a nanoparticle treatment, fullerol, to act as a potent antioxidant in treating inflammation-induced low back pain from degenerative disc disease. While waiting for results of these studies into fullerol, it appears that one of the best things to do to relieve low back pain is simply to reduce risk factors for oxidative damage, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to pollution, and a diet high in sugar and saturated fats. Conversely, staying hydrated, and increasing your intake of antioxidants from fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy wholegrains may help reduce the production of reactive oxygen species and improve your defences against free radical attach, thus lowering your risk of disc degeneration, abnormal nerve growth, and low back pain from spinal stenosis and inflammation.

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