Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates


Degenerative Disc Disease: Symptoms and Treatment Options


Degenerative disc disease is a common medical problem that affects the spine. In fact, about 40 percent of all people over the age of 40 suffer from the condition, and 80 percent
of people age 80 and older suffer from some form of the disease. Some people who experience degeneration of one or more of their spinal discs experience never develop pain while others experience intense pain from this condition. 

Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available for degenerative disc disease today. 

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

Your spine is made up of many small bones called vertebrae. Spinal discs made up of cartilage and other soft tissue lie between these vertebrae. These discs keep vertebrae from rubbing against each other, absorb shock that is placed on the spine, and allow the spine to flex. 

Many factors can cause these discs to degenerate or wear away. Many people develop degenerative disc disease due to simple wear and tear on the spine that occurs with age. However, a traumatic back injury can also lead to disc degeneration if a disc is injured during the accident.

In addition, a disc can simply dry up and lose its ability to cushion vertebrae effectively. A disc consists of about 90 percent fluid, and if this fluid is lost, the disc becomes too brittle and small to form an effective cushion. 

Other disc degeneration risk factors include smoking tobacco, obesity, and performing heavy physical labor that places stress on the back. 

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease can affect any area of the spine, ranging from the cervical spine that supports your neck to the lumbar spine that supports your lower back. The symptoms of degenerative disc disease vary depending on the specific area of your spine that is affected. 

If you have developed degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, then you may experience neck pain that radiates to your shoulders, arms, or hands. Degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine often causes pain not only in your lower back, but also in your thighs or buttocks.

All types of degenerative disc disease can also lead to painful muscle spasms in your back. 

Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease

Thankfully, many treatment options for degenerative disc disease can reduce or eliminate the pain this condition causes. Before prescribing treatment, your doctor must perform a physical exam to determine if you are suffering from degenerative disc disease or a different back problem that can cause similar symptoms. 

Then, after your diagnosis is confirmed, they will suggest the right degenerative disc disease treatment for you. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often the first-line treatment for milder cases of degenerative disc disease. During physical therapy sessions, specific muscles in your back and other areas of your body are strengthened.

When these muscles are stronger, they help support more of your weight to avoid unnecessary stress on your spine. Your physical therapist may also help you correct bad posture that also triggers degenerative disc disease pain. 

Facet Joint Injections

To administer facet joint injections, your doctor will inject a corticosteroid into areas of your spine called facet joints that lie above and below vertebrae. While facet joint injections do not repair spinal discs, they help relieve pain that degenerative disc disease causes. They also help reduce inflammation in the spine to prevent progression of the disease. 

Artificial Disc Replacement

Some people suffering from degenerative disc disease are good candidates for artificial disc replacement, especially if their disease only affects one or two spinal discs and is not causing spinal nerve compression. During a disc replacement procedure, discs that have experienced degeneration are removed and replaced with artificial spinal discs. 

Spinal Fusion Surgery

Severe cases of degenerative disc disease that do not respond to other less-invasive treatment options are often treated with spinal fusion surgery. This surgery immobilizes the area of the spine affected by degenerative disc disease to reduce or eliminate pain that is triggered by movement of this area of the spine. 

During spinal fusion surgery, spinal discs that have deteriorated are removed from the spine and bone grafting material is left in their place. This material encourages the vertebrae that lie above and below the disc that was removed to fuse together. This fusion does not occur immediately, but instead begins occurring after the bone graft material is placed and continues for 3 to 18 months following the surgery. 

If you suffer from neck or back pain, then realize that degenerative disc disease is very common and could be the source of this pain. There are many treatment options for degenerative disc disease that can reduce or even eliminate the pain it causes completely. Contact the staff at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates today to schedule an exam and discuss your back pain treatment options.

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