Though the term degenerative disc disease sounds scary, it actually refers to a condition that naturally occurs with age. As we get older, the discs that make up our spine age with the rest of our body.
Over time, the discs lose water content and elasticity, which causes them to shorten and lose their ability to absorb shock. As the condition progresses, everyday movements have more impact on the body. For most, degenerative disc disease is a natural aging process, although occasionally it can stem from a back injury.
What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
Symptoms are fairly consistent and can range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms include:
- Pain that tends to occur with specific activities, usually bending, lifting and twisting. Sometimes the pain may worsen during the activity or flare up for a period of time. Other times, the pain will be very low-grade or even completely absent.
- Pain is chronic and some baseline level is almost always present. The baseline level can range from minor and slightly irritating to severe and disabling.
- Occasional flare-ups may cause intense episodes of back and neck pain, typically lasting from a few days to a few months. Afterward, the pain returns to its normal baseline level.
- Laying or sitting in certain positions may make pain worse. Walking, running and changing positions seems to make that pain feel better.
- Rarely, chronic pain is completely disabling, in which case extensive pain management treatment is needed.
Diagnosis begins with a physical examination for flexibility, range of motion, and signs of nerve pressure or damage. Your doctor will also test the strength of your muscles and your reflexes. You will have to fill out a pain assessment form and the doctor may want to order an X-ray or MRI.
Can I get treatment for degenerative disc disease?
There are a number of treatments for this condition, depending on its severity. Treatment for mild pain may include medications and physical therapy. A physician may also medications to aid with sleep problems due to pain.
In severe cases, your doctor may recommend targeted interventional procedures or spinal fusion. Interventional procedures delivers pain medication directly to the area of severe pain. Spinal fusion is a surgery that permanently joins together two or more vertebrae to form one single bone, making the vertebrae stronger and more able to withstand everyday activities.
There are also more novel approaches such as stem cell therapy into the disc.
To learn more, request an appointment or contact Comprehensive Pain and Neurology Center at 615- 410-4990.