What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease relates to changes that occur in the discs throughout the spine as a person naturally ages. The spinal discs, which function as shock absorbers for the spine, separate the vertebrae, and allow the spine to remain flexible, break down over time and can cause painful conditions such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis or osteoarthritis. Degeneration of spinal discs can occur anywhere throughout the spine, but most often occur in the cervical region (neck) or lumbar region (lower back).
What causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease naturally occurs over time as the spinal discs age. The condition is not actually a disease at all and although all people will incur some degree of disc degeneration over time, being diagnosed with the condition does not mean that your condition will continue to get worse as you age. A loss of fluid within the discs can occur, which makes the discs thinner, resulting in decreased flexibility and vertebrae that sit closer together. The discs can also incur small tears in the exterior layer, which may eventually lead to bulging or ruptured discs. The changes to the discs result from a natural aging process, although they are more likely to occur in individuals who engage in repetitive physical work such as heavy lifting, those who are obese, and smokers. An injury to the spine may also lead to a faster degeneration of the discs than would otherwise occur.
What are the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Some individuals with degenerative disc disease incur no pain at all, while others may incur severe and debilitating pain. As the discs deteriorate, they may bulge or become herniated, may press on spinal nerves, and may result in varying levels of pain, tingling, weakness or numbness and may limit range of motion. The symptoms may occur suddenly or they can gradually develop, and symptoms may come and go. Pain and numbness often occur when certain movements are performed and are more likely to occur in the neck and lower back than other areas of the spine. Neck pain may radiate down the arms, while back pain may also be felt in the legs, hips and buttocks.
How is Degenerative Disc Disease diagnosed?
Dr. Yakov Simkhayev will take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam. The doctor will ask about symptoms, level of severity, when the pain began, and what activities increase or decrease the symptoms. Range of motion tests may be performed, and the doctor will check for changes in reflexes and nerve function, as well as areas of tenderness. Imaging tests may be performed to rule out other causes, such as injury or suspected disease or tumors, and can determine the severity of any damage that has already occurred, but are not helpful in actually diagnosing degenerative disc disease.
When should I seek care for Degenerative Disc Disease?
If you experience pain in your neck, arms, back, legs, hips, or buttocks, that does not go away after a short period of rest, application of ice or heat, and over the counter pain medication, then you should seek medical advice. If your pain is severe or comes on suddenly, you experience numbness, tingling or limited mobility, or you believe that you have sustained an injury, you should seek immediate medical attention
What will the treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease consist of?
The first course of treatment for degenerative disc disease is to relieve the initial pain through the application of ice or heat and taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). There is no specific treatment to halt the natural degeneration of spinal discs, but further treatments will depend in part on whether the degeneration has caused other conditions, such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, or a herniated disc. Physical therapy sessions at Determination Physical therapy may be helpful and will include stretching and strengthening exercises. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove the damaged disc, but surgery is usually a last resort option.
Which muscle groups/ joints are commonly affected by Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease affects the discs along the spine that are located between the vertebrae. It most often occurs in the cervical region (neck) and lumbar region (lower back). Symptoms may also be felt in the shoulder, arm, wrist, hand and fingers when the disc is damaged in the cervical region and down the legs and in the hips and buttocks when the damage is in the lumbar region.
What type of results should I expect from the treatment of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Some individuals with degenerative disc disease experience no symptoms and therefore require no treatment. For others, symptoms can often be alleviated through rest, heat and cold therapy, pain medication and/or physical therapy at Determination Physical Therapy. Over the course of a person’s life, the pain may come and go, but unless the condition has caused damage to the spinal discs, individuals should experience pain relief. When surgery is indicated, results will vary based on the condition of the discs, the location, and the severity of the injury.