Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a weakening of one or more vertebral discs, which normally act as a cushion between the vertebrae. This condition can develop as a natural part of the aging process, but it may also result from injury to the back.

What You Need To Know About Degenerative Disc Disease

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Although it has the name "disease," degenerative disc disease is a natural condition that results from normal wear-and-tear on the body. As you age, your vertebral discs weaken and deteriorate, causing many painful and severe bodily reactions. While degenerative disc is primarily related to aging, some people develop it as a result of back trauma.

Typically, degenerative disc disease doesn't result in significant bodily impairment like long-term disability. But if left untreated, disc degeneration can cause intense pain spells that may interfere with your everyday routine. For example, some people may develop conditions like cervical spinal stenosis or lumbar spinal stenosis, where bone spurs form on the spinal cord and irritate nerves.

There are many treatment options available for this condition ranging from nonsurgical to surgical procedures. Your physician will create a plan that aligns with your condition and lifestyle goals.

If you are experiencing back pain, you deserve to speak to an expert about your condition. Book an appointment now at the Resurgens Spine Center to find out more.

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

There are a few different circumstances that can contribute to your risk of developing degenerative disc disease. A common scenario is when your spinal discs lose water and begin thinning as you age. When these discs thin, your vertebrae have less padding between them, and because there is less cushion, it contributes to problems that cause spinal pain.

In another scenario, the accumulation of daily movements can cause tiny tears in the outer wall of the disc. These outer walls contain nerves that become aggravated by tears. As tears form, the disc's pulpy core may begin to push through the cracks, bulge, or slip out of place — a condition known as a herniated disc. Athletes or people who work repetitive jobs are at higher risk of this type of degenerative disc disease.

While a degenerating spinal disc can be painful, it does not always cause pain. The lack of pain is because the disc itself has a very small amount of nerves. But intense pain may be caused when nearby structures like the nerve roots, joint, or muscles are being affected by the degeneration, causing muscle tension, and pain spasms to occur.

Procedures like cervical radiculopathy can help alleviate pain from nerve inflammation. Other times people experience pain as a result of micromotion instability, as the degeneration of the disc's outer layer allows unnatural vertebral motions.

Your genetics, weight, and lifestyle habits (like smoking) can also cause degenerative disc disease. Lastly, it is not uncommon to exhibit interconnected conditions, and having spinal injuries can begin or accelerate degenerative disc disease.

Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

There are a variety of indicators for degenerative disc disease. Depending on the parameters of your condition, you may exhibit different symptoms. For example, it's just as likely that disc degeneration causes intense pain, as you are to show no symptoms.

Some common symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • Persistent pain in your neck or back

  • Pain increases and decreases at different intervals

  • Flare-ups that can change when you sit, move, and walk

  • Muscle spasms in the neck and lower back

  • Unstable feelings in the spine

  • Weakness in the areas below the neck

  • Inability to control bowels or bladder

  • Difficulty moving arms and legs

  • Numbness that travels throughout your body

This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, but only a few related to degenerative disc disease. If you experience any of these symptoms for periods lasting beyond a few days, make an appointment with a Resurgens physician as soon as possible.

How Degenerative Disc Disease is Diagnosed

A Resurgens physician will start with a physical exam of your body. They will ask you questions about your family history and medical history. Be prepared to answer personal questions about your symptoms, when the pain started, and if you have experienced previous spine injury. Expect brief episodes of pain as your doctor will need to touch affected areas and observe you doing activities that trigger your sensitivity.

After this portion of the exam, your doctor will need additional diagnostic screening. Imaging technology like MRIs and CT scans will help your doctor understand the discs and nerve damage, as well as assess the strength of their alignment. Your physician may use other diagnostic technologies to visualize your condition. These tools help doctors create a treatment plan catered to meet your lifestyle goals.

Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease

After your diagnosis, your doctor will create a unique plan for your treatment. They will strategize the best approach for stopping further damage and easing pain. There are many options for degenerative disc diseases ranging from nonsurgical treatments to intensive surgery.

Nonsurgical Treatment

There are many nonsurgical options to relieve and alleviate symptoms from degenerative disc disease. Pain relievers like Aleve, Advil, and Tylenol may help with inflammation and lessen swelling. Injections of affected areas with steroids can also provide relief. Depending on your condition, your physician may prescribe stronger medication. Be careful with these substances as they may be habit-forming.

Additionally, physical therapy can help improve your back and neck muscles, which may provide long-term relief. Certain exercises like walking, yoga, pilates, swimming, and cycling can stabilize and strengthen areas compromised by degenerative disc disease. There are also certain positions such as reclining or kneeling that can support your neck and are less painful than sitting. Related solutions like bracing may also improve your quality of life.

Surgical Treatment

For people who need stronger intervention, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery can stabilize the spine and relieve nerve pressure. At Resurgens, we offer minimally invasive surgical options that provide a quicker recovery time with less scarring and traditional surgery options.

Spinal fusion procedures like anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) and anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) are used to treat spinal instability and curvature issues. Typically during a fusion procedure, your surgeon joins two or more vertebral bones permanently to support the spine.

For other people, removal of excess bone material can alleviate nerve pressure, a procedure known as a discectomy. Discectomy procedures like micro endoscopic posterior cervical discectomy and selective endoscopic discectomy decompress nerves and help offset pain. Depending on your needs, your doctor may elect to replace your affected discs with artificial components.

Getting relief from pain starts with a visit to the Resurgens Spine Center. Book your appointment to chat with one of our award-winning physicians.

Learn more about the Spine Center at Resurgens Orthopaedics.

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