Degenerative Disc Disease

Though the name itself implies a discrete disorder in and of itself, degenerative disc disease is actually a term broadly utilized to identify the normal sorts of changes that affect spinal discs as they age.

Though these adaptations can occur anywhere along the spine, they tend to manifest themselves mainly in the lumbar (lower) region of the back as well as the cervical (neck) region.

The effects of degenerative disc disease can be serious and can include pain in the back and/or neck, herniated discs, and possibly the hastening of osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.

Each of these afflictions has the potential to place substantial pressure on the spinal cord and adjacent nerves, causing great discomfort, mobility loss, and impaired nerve function. The good news is that a range of treatment options are available which can bring real relief and renewed quality of life to those who have been struggling with ongoing pain.

Why Spinal Discs Matter

Spinal discs are, in essence, the shock absorbing elements which facilitate flexibility and minimize potentially harmful bodily impacts. They are comprised of two main parts, namely the hard, outer, nerve-containing layer, as well as the softer core which contains important proteins.

Because discs themselves do not receive a great deal of blood circulation, once an injury occurs, regeneration is impossible, and the process of decline will gradually begin.

How Does Degenerative Disc Disease Arise?

The simple process of aging is responsible for the noticeable breakdown of spinal discs, and for some individuals, such changes can bring very real problems. Common phenomena affecting discs include a loss of fluid, which reduces their flexibility and causes a narrowing of the space between vertebrae.

In addition, aging can produce small cracking and tearing in the discs’ outer layer. As the soft material within the discs is forced outward through these breaches, the discs themselves become prone to rupturing, bulging, and fragmentation.

For certain patients, degeneration is not the direct result of aging, but rather is caused by a distinct injury event and subsequent disc herniation.

Because the distance between vertebrae begins to shrink as a result of these changes, the spine itself loses stability. In a natural effort by the body to counteract this progression, bony outgrowths known as osteophytes often develop, which in turn can compress nerve roots. The end result is pain, loss of function, and drastically reduced mobility.

Discomfort can take hold in the back and neck, but may also travel to the leg or buttock area. For many, the pain worsens with physical activity, and nagging sensations of tingling or numbness may also be present.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

A diagnosis of degenerative disc disease typically involves review of a detailed medical history as well as a thorough physical exam. Discussion of the patient’s precise symptoms and the onset of pain will also factor into a physician’s determination. X-rays or an MRI may be used to reveal disc damage, but are not alone conclusive in terms of diagnosing this type of decline.

Treatment options for milder cases of degenerative disc disease may include conservative methods such as the use of anti-inflammatory medications, application of heat or ice, epidural injections, physical therapy regimens, and stretching exercises. However, individuals whose condition has been exacerbated by disc herniation, spinal stenosis, or osteoarthritis may require surgical intervention.

Procedures designed to treat degenerative disc disease often involve removal of the problem disc and, in certain cases, a fusion of the bone surrounding the spinal cord. For some patients, implantation of an artificial disc will also be necessary.

Minimally Invasive Solutions

The advent of minimally invasive spine surgery has given new hope to those suffering from degenerative disc disease and other painful back conditions.

With smaller incision points, reduced risk of infection, minimal disruption to muscle and tissue, and shorter recovery times, the benefits of these techniques cannot be overstated. If you would like to learn how such a procedure can help relieve pain and restore your vitality, contact us today.