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DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE
While Degenerative Disc Disease isn’t curable, there are a range of surgical and non-surgical options you can explore to find relief from your symptoms and stop or slow its progression. Citrus Spine Institute specializes in helping patients diagnose and treat Degenerative Disc Disease effectively, so that they can live free of lifelong pain and have an improved quality of life.
Degenerative Disc Disease is associated with the usual wear and tear effects of aging. There is a disc made of cartilage, fibrous tissue and water in between each vertebrae of the spine. Over time, these discs naturally shrink and lose water. The symptoms of degenerative disc disease are related to dehydration or shrinking of the discs, thickening of the ligaments and osteoarthritic changes to the bones and joints in the spine.
While age is the most common cause of Degenerative Disc Disease, other factors may increase the risk of developing this chronic condition. Sometimes, a traumatic injury or an accumulation of minor back-related injuries can lead to disc deterioration, ultimately causing Degenerative Disc Disease. There are lifestyle factors that could increase the risk of this condition such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle or partaking in long-term, repetitive activities that put pressure or impact on certain discs.
The symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease vary depending on the extent and location of disc degeneration. Pain is the most common symptom throughout the stages of Degenerative Disc Disease, along with stiffness and fatigue.
In some cases, degenerated discs in the upper or lower back develop bone spurs (bony growths) that compress the surrounding nerves, or become irritated — causing numbness, tingling or sharp pain that radiates to the arms, wrists, fingers, buttocks, upper thighs and legs.
Severe symptoms include weakness in the legs that results in difficulty walking. Issues controlling bladder or bowel movements indicate a severe case of Degenerative Disc Disease and requires emergency medical care. If you’re experiencing any serious symptoms, immediately notify your physician and schedule a spinal evaluation.
Degenerative Disc Disease doesn’t improve over time and, unfortunately, there is no cure. If you’re experiencing symptoms, don’t ignore them. There’s no need to suffer, especially when there are many pain management treatments and minimally invasive procedures that can exponentially increase your quality of life.
If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should visit your doctor to get an official diagnosis to better understand the severity of your case of Degenerative Disc Disease.
Your doctor will likely begin by looking into your history and asking you questions like:
It may be a good idea to think of the answers to these questions before your appointment, especially if you don’t know the answers offhand — like family history, for example. In addition, it will be helpful during the diagnosis process if you create a list of your own questions you’d like to ask your doctor.
In addition to collecting your history, you will likely undergo a physical examination. Your doctor may ask you to perform simple movements, like bending forward or turning your neck, to assess your mobility and pain. You may also be assessed for reflex, motor skills and muscle strength.
Depending on your doctor’s initial assessment and the types of symptoms you are experiencing, your doctor may recommend the following tests:
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, prescription medications or muscle relaxants in cases where affected discs impact the surrounding nerves, causing painful muscle spasms. Your doctor may also suggest an epidural steroid injection — a minimally invasive procedure that reduces inflammation and alleviates back pain.
In mild cases where a sedentary lifestyle or obesity are risk factors that could worsen Degenerative Disc Disease, your doctor may recommend low-impact, daily exercise and healthy dietary changes. If your pain isn’t immobilizing, physical therapy that strengthens your core and back can help support the affected discs. A physical therapist will show you exercises to perform at home, and may recommend a back brace for increased stability.
If conservative treatment doesn’t help, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure such as an artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion. An artificial disc replacement uses an anterior technique to replace the damaged disc without interrupting the motion of the cervical spine. Depending on the location of the weakened discs, a posterior lumbar fusion or cervical fusion may be recommended. In both procedures, the degenerative disc is removed and replaced with a small interbody spacer filled with bone graft to promote fusion and alleviate pressure on the nerves and spine.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease, the best thing to do is schedule a consultation with a spinal specialist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. After your diagnosis, it’s important to stick to your treatment plan and regimen. Be sure to communicate any changes with your doctor, and have regular check-ups to track the progression of your condition so that you can change course accordingly.
In addition to following your doctor’s recommendations, it’s important to practice good posture and avoid strenuous activities or being completely sedentary — both of which could cause your condition to worsen.