LA Orthopedic Group can go over options for managing Degenerative Disc Disease.
Normally associated with aging, degenerative disc disease (DDD) is the term used to describe problems with the spongy discs that cushion the spine. If these discs become worn or damaged, pressure may be placed on nearby nerve roots. The condition itself simply refers to the progressive wear of spinal discs.
- Symptoms depend on the extent of the wear and how nearby nerves are affected
- It’s not unusual for symptoms to become less disruptive over time
- There are treatments that can help minimize pain
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What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease
The wear and tear of spinal discs is something everybody experiences with age. The amount of degeneration can vary, with some people having no symptoms at all and others developing noticeable discomfort. Degenerative disc disease itself isn’t a “disease.” However, it may contribute to other conditions that can affect the spine and supporting joints, muscles, and soft tissues, including:
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Spondylolisthesis (slipped disc)
- Osteoarthritis of the spine
Diagnosis of disc degeneration is based on symptoms presented, often in either the lower (lumbar) spine or cervical spine (neck). In addition to consideration of a patient’s medical history, diagnosis usually involves image tests (X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans) to determine which area of the spine is affected and what specific structures are affected by the degeneration. Diagnosis may also involve a bone scan and a neurological exam and include asking the patient questions such as:
- When did the pain start?
- What activities or movements seem to trigger discomfort?
- Is pain experienced in other parts of the body?*
*Discs compressing nerves often produce radiating pain felt in the legs, thighs, hips, arms, or shoulders.
Treatment for degenerative disc disease usually starts with conservative (non-surgical) options. Bed rest is only recommended for a few days since spine-supporting muscles will become weak with excessive rest. Passive therapies (treatments done to the patient) can also include hot and cold therapy, electrotherapy, restricting certain movements or activities that trigger pain, and active physical therapy that includes light exercise and activities such as walking.
Surgery is rarely necessary for DDD unless symptoms are severe or other treatments aren’t effective. If surgery is recommended, procedures may include a microdiscectomy in which herniated (protruding) disc material is removed with minimally invasive techniques. Should the entire disc need to be removed, fusion surgery may be performed to stabilize the spine. Another option is a foraminotomy, a form of decompression surgery where nerve pathways are widened. If the cervical spine is affected, an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) may provide relief.
While typically affecting adults over fifty, degenerative disc disease sometimes occurs earlier in life and may affect patients who inherent a prematurely aging spine. If you are experiencing pain related to the progressive wear of spinal discs, an orthopedic surgeon can discuss all available treatment options with you so you can make a well-informed decision. Preventative efforts generally include paying attention to posture, getting regular exercise, and making healthy diet choices.