What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Learn about the symptoms and treatment options for degenerative disc disease.

Degenerative disc disease sounds scary, but don’t let the name fool you. In reality, it shouldn’t be called a disease at all. Degenerative disc disease is a general term used to describe a spinal disc that is “damaged” because of trauma or wear and tear. 

 

Spinal discs are the donut-shaped cushions between the bones in your spine (vertebrae), and they act as shock absorbers and help you bend, twist and flex your back. As the body ages, the discs also start to age, meaning they aren’t quite as strong as they once were, and are more susceptible to change.

Degenerative disc disease sounds scary, but don’t let the name fool you. In reality, it shouldn’t be called a disease at all. Degenerative disc disease is a general term used to describe a spinal disc that is “damaged” because of trauma or wear and tear.

 

Spinal discs are the donut-shaped cushions between the bones in your spine (vertebrae), and they act as shock absorbers and help you bend, twist and flex your back. As the body ages, the discs also start to age, meaning they aren’t quite as strong as they once were, and are more susceptible to change.

What You May Be Feeling

Stiffness

Stiffness

Neck Pain

Neck pains

Back Pain

Back Pain

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

The primary symptom of degenerative disc disease is pain. A degenerative disc generally starts in the lower back, and may spread to the buttocks and thighs, or in the neck, and spread to shoulders and arms. Degenerative disc disease may cause symptoms such as:

 

  • Numbness and/or tingling in the arms and legs
  • Pain that is worse when sitting, or when bending, twisting, or lifting
  • Pain that radiates to the neck, arms, or hands pain that is worse when lifting, pushing and/or pulling
  • Severe pain that comes and goes over a period of a few days to a few months

Potential Treatment Options

DISC REPLACEMENT

When the disc compresses the spinal cord or nerve root, replacement can be an option. The disc is replaced with an artificial disc to preserve motion at the disc space.

Anterior Cervical Disc Fusion (ACDF)

During an ACDF, the damaged disc in the neck is removed, relieving pain and pressure. Then a reinforced implant takes its place, providing much needed stability.

LUMBAR FUSION

During a lumbar fusion the damaged disc is removed from the lower back (lumbar spine), and the two vertebrae are fused together with a reinforced implant to create support and relieve pain.

Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA)

Also known as an RFA, this procedure uses high-energy radio frequency to ablate (or remove/vaporize) the troubled nerve, essentially eliminating the sensation of pain.

Things You Can Do at Home to Relieve Symptoms

  • Exercises designed to strengthen your back
  • Pain medication
  • Plenty of rest, with a gradual return to your normal routine
  • Physical therapy
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