Degenerative Disc Disease

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a normal aging condition that occurs when the discs that separate the vertebrae in the spine starts to break down, or degenerate. This is most common in the neck and the lower back.

Spinal discs are soft compressible discs that act as shock absorbents for the spine, allowing for flexion and movement, including bending and twisting motions. Over time, changes in these discs can cause osteoarthritis, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is pain in the affected area. A damaged disc in the neck may cause neck or arm pain, whereas a damaged disc in the lower back may cause low back, buttock, and leg pain. Numbness and tingling may also occur in the arms and legs. Pain is usually worsened with particular movements, such as bending, twisting, or reaching. Pain can start minimally, and gradually become worse, or may become aggravated from a traumatic incident, such as a car accident.

Can this condition be treated?

People suffering from degenerative disc disease have different treatment options available. In less severe cases, medications such as Tylenol can be taken to help relieve pain. This can be combined with stretching exercises and physical therapy, to help strengthen the spine. In more severe cases, surgery may be recommended. Some surgical options include removing the damaged disc and fusing the two vertebrae together, or replacing the damaged disc with an artificial disc.