Degenerative Disc Disease

To understand Degenerative Disc Disease, we need to understand what an intervertebral disc is.  An intervertebral disc is a structure found between the vertebrae, or bones, of the spinal column. These discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, helping to cushion the bones during movement and protect them from damage. Each disc is made up of a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus and a soft, jelly-like inner layer called the nucleus pulposus. Together, these layers allow the disc to flex and absorb shock while maintaining its shape.

Over time, these discs can degenerate or wear out, causing pain and other symptoms. This is often due to aging, wear and tear, or injury. As the discs deteriorate, they may become less effective at cushioning the vertebrae, leading to stiffness, pain, and other symptoms such as tingling or numbness in the affected area. Problems with the intervertebral discs, such as degeneration or herniation, can lead to pain and other symptoms in the back or neck.

What Are the Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a condition in which the discs in the spine deteriorate over time, causing pain and other symptoms. The common symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • A dull or sharp back pain can occur anywhere along the spine. The pain gets worse while sitting.
  • Pain that worsens with movement such as bending, twisting, or lifting.
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs if the degenerated discs are pressing on nerves.
  • Weakness in the arms or legs may occur if the degenerated discs are pressing on nerves.
  • The pain and stiffness may limit the range of motion in the affected area.
  • Pain decreases when lying down or moving (walking or running) versus standing still.
  • Bouts of recurrent, intense pain lasting from a few days to several weeks.
  • “Foot drop” or trouble lifting the front part of the foot caused by muscle weakness.

Diagnosing Degenerative Disc Disease

Back pain can have various causes, and at Neuro Spine & Pain Center, our physicians will start by taking your medical history and conducting a physical exam to determine the underlying issue. We may use diagnostic tools like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify the cause of the pain. If degenerative disc disease is suspected, we may use X-rays to confirm the diagnosis, which may show a decrease in the space between vertebrae, formation of bone spurs, facet joint enlargement, or instability during limb movement. An MRI can also help confirm the diagnosis, by revealing loss of water in a disc, facet joint enlargement, spinal stenosis, or a herniated disc.

Treatment of Degenerative Disc Disease

While there is no cure for Degenerative Disc Disease, there are several treatment options available that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Treatment options include surgical and non-surgical treatment. The choice of treatment usually depends on a range of such as patient’s age and severity of the disease.

Conventional Treatment

Pain medications - Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be helpful in managing pain. In more severe cases, prescription pain medications may be necessary.

Rest – Patient is asked to take ample rest and avoid activities that may trigger symptoms.

Exercise and Physical Therapy - Exercise can be an effective treatment for degenerative disc disease (DDD) especially if diagnosis has not shown any evidence of nerve root compression or muscle weakness. Engaging in regular physical activity can help strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, improve flexibility and range of motion, and reduce pain and stiffness.

Physical activities should be done under a physical therapist or healthcare provider to develop an exercise program that is safe and appropriate for your specific condition. Low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, or exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles in the back and core are recommended.

Surgery - Surgery may be considered in severe cases of DDD that do not respond to other treatments. The most common surgical options include discectomy (removal of part of the damaged disc) or spinal fusion (joining two or more vertebrae together).

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