Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease, but a term used to describe the normal changes in your spinal discs as you age. Another term for this condition is osteoarthritis. Spinal discs are soft, compressible discs that separate the interlocking bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend and twist.
What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease can take place throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region). Degeneration causes discs to become dehydrated and lose the ability to act as shock absorbers. These conditions may put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, causing pain and possibly affecting nerve function. The breakdown of disc tissue can lead to herniated discs, spinal stenosis or bone spurs. Some degenerative discs may be a source of lower back pain or neck pain even without the presence of spinal stenosis. For patients with several conditions present in one area of the spine, additional diagnostic testing is utilized to determine the source of the pain. Our pain-mapping program includes several diagnostic tests which allow the specialists at the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute to pinpoint and treat the specific area causing pain.
The most common cause of degenerative disc disease is daily wear and tear that is part of the natural aging process. Several risk factors that can accelerate the occurrence degenerative disc disease. These include:
- Genetic Predisposition
- Hobbies or occupations which require heavy lifting or repetitive motion
- Weight Gain
Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms
Although some degeneration is to be expected with age, not all degeneration is symptomatic. Many people have no pain, while others with the same amount of disc damage have severe pain that limits their activities.
Where the pain occurs depends on the location of the affected disc. A degenerative disc in the cervical spine may result in neck or arm pain, while a degenerative disc in the lumbar spine may result in pain in the back, buttocks or legs. The pain often gets worse with movements such as bending, lifting or twisting.
Degenerative Disc in the Neck
Discs in the cervical spine protect cervical bones by providing cushion and absorbing shock. Healthy cervical discs provide structural height and flexibility between vertebral bones and prevent friction, which can lead to pain and other related structural problems. When these discs degenerate and break down over time, they lose their natural disc height, shrink and even bulge or tear. This occurrence, which is natural as bodies’ age, is called degenerative disc disease. The severity and location of the disc degeneration will determine severity of symptoms experienced.
Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is less of a disease and more of a general term used to describe the deterioration of the intervertebral discs in the spine. Degenerative of lumbar discs is a normal part of aging and most people over the age of 40 will have some disc degeneration in the spine.
The MISI Approach to treating Degenerative Disc Disease
The Minimally Invasive Spine Institute provides degenerative disc disease treatment for patients experiencing the painful symptoms associated with degenerative discs.
Often patients with pain caused by degenerative disc disease can find relief using conservative methods such as
Medication – Over the counter or prescribed medication can reduce inflammation and control pain. For patients suffering with extreme pain or muscle spasms, the treating physician may prescribe a narcotic pain reliever or muscle relaxants.
Physical therapy – There are several ways a trained physical therapist can help patients who are suffering from degenerative disc disease. They can teach proper stretching and strengthening exercises to build core muscles and support the spine. Other treatments can include message therapy and posture training.
Pain management injections –Spine specialist may utilize epidural steroid injection to help control pain and inflammation and allow the patient to comfortably begin a physical therapy program.
If symptoms cannot be relieved through conservative methods, surgery may be required. At the Minimally Invasive Spine institute, we offer alternatives to traditional open back or neck surgery.
The skilled surgeons at the minimally invasive spine institute are able to treat conditions associated with degenerative disc disease through highly specialized minimally invasive procedures.
For most procedures incisions are less than 1-inch and surgeons are able to remove bone spurs, relieve nerve compression and remove extruded disc material, therefore dissipating pain while minimizing surgical trauma. Because of this approach, recovery is faster, helping patients to return to life as quickly as possible.
Dr. Bryce Benbow has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.