Degenerative disc disease is not really a “disease,” but a condition that develops naturally with age. It occurs when wear and tear on one or more spinal discs causes back or neck pain and symptoms. Almost every adult experiences some kind of disc degeneration with age, but not everyone develops pain, weakness, instability and other symptoms.
In youth, spinal discs provide cushioning, support and shock absorption to the vertebrae. They help evenly distribute weight across the spine during movement. Additionally, intervertebral discs are flexible and enable the spine to twist and bend freely. With age, wear and tear, spinal discs become worn down, drier, less flexible and weaker. They’re more vulnerable to tears and damage, and they can’t support the vertebrae as well as they once could. Some discs begin to thin out, flatten or collapse, narrowing the space between vertebrae. These degenerative changes can affect the surrounding muscles, joints, soft tissues and nerves and cause low back or neck pain and symptoms.
Degenerative disc changes also contribute to the development of other degenerative conditions in the spine, including arthritis, disc herniation and spinal stenosis.
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that develops naturally with age. Although nearly every adult experiences some form of spinal disc degeneration, it’s impossible to predict who will develop pain and symptoms. Daily stresses over several years, past back injuries, physically demanding jobs with repetitive lifting or bending, sports and obesity can all cause discs to dry out, tear and degenerate.
The primary symptoms of degenerative disc disease are back or neck pain, depending on the location of the affected disc. Many people experience pain that comes and goes, and sometimes flares up into more intense episodes of pain. Flare ups can last anywhere from a few days to a few months and may come on without warning. Some people experience continuous chronic pain with episodic flare-ups. The pain level varies by person, ranging from mild and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating.
Disc degeneration also causes spinal instability, which may lead to weakness, muscle spasms and a feeling like the back is “giving out” at times. If damaged discs press against nearby spinal nerves, you may experience radiating pain, weakness, numbness or tingling. A damaged disc in the low back can cause symptoms that radiate to the hip, buttock, leg and foot. A damaged disc in the neck can cause symptoms that radiate to the shoulder, arm and hand.
Pain and symptoms typically feel worse after sitting or standing for long periods or performing movements like bending, twisting or lifting, because these positions place increased stress on the spinal discs. Walking, stretching regularly, lying down and changing position frequently often helps relieve pain and symptoms.
Spinal degeneration can’t be reversed once it’s occurred. Your doctor will place you on a management plan to reduce pain and flare ups, slow the progression of damage, and keep you as active and mobile as possible. Your treatment plan might include:
In many cases, a combination of the treatments listed above can provide long-term relief. However, if pain and symptoms from degenerative disc disease are affecting your quality of life, you may need surgery.
Surgery may be an option if severe pain is impacting your ability to function and perform daily activities, even after non-surgical treatments. The two most common surgical procedures for degenerative disc disease are:
Based on your specific condition, your doctor will discuss your surgical options with you.
At Integrity Spine and Orthopedics, we specialize in identifying, diagnosing and treating a wide range of acute and chronic back, spine and joint conditions. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons specialize in performing minimally invasive spine surgeries to reduce pain and improve mobility for patients diagnosed with spinal arthritis, degenerative disc disease, bulging or herniated discs, a pinched nerve, spinal stenosis and more.
Some of the primary benefits of minimally invasive surgery include:
If you’re experiencing back or joint pain, weakness, or a loss of mobility, reach out to us today to schedule a consultation with our team. We provide compassionate and comprehensive care to help you find relief from pain and get back to doing the activities you love.
Call us at 904-456-0017 or contact us online to request an appointment.