Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a common pathology that involves age-related changes to the discs, ligaments and vertebrae. If you have this disease, you may experience pain, stiffness, and decreased flexibility.

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Finding Relief for Degenerative Disc Disease

While degenerative disc disease (DDD) isn’t curable, there are various surgical and non-surgical options you can explore to stop or slow disc degeneration and alleviate your symptoms. At Citrus Spine Institute, we specialize in helping people effectively diagnose and treat DDD, so that they can live free of lifelong pain and improve their quality of life.

Learn More About Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is linked to:

  • Aging. DDD is associated with the usual wear and tear effects of aging. The discs between each vertebra of the spine are made of cartilage, fibrous tissue and water. Over time, these discs naturally shrink and lose water. The symptoms of DDD are related to dehydration or shrinking of these discs, thickening of the surrounding ligaments and osteoarthritic changes to the bones and joints in the spine. 
  • Traumatic injuries. Sometimes, a traumatic injury or an accumulation of minor back-related injuries can lead to disc deterioration, ultimately causing DDD. 
  • Lifestyle. These include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle or partaking in long-term, repetitive activities that put pressure on certain discs.

Your symptoms will vary depending on the extent of degeneration and the affected disc location. 

  • Pain. Pain is the most common symptom throughout the stages of DDD. This can occur in any area of the back and even the neck. You may feel pain radiating to your extremities. Your pain may also be accompanied by tingling, numbness and muscle spasms. This pain could feel sharp or dull and may be constant or intermittent. You may also feel fatigued due to the pain.
  • Stiffness and weakness in the back and extremities. Foot drop and weakness in your leg muscles are signs that the nerve root may be damaged. If you’re experiencing this, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Bone spurs. In some cases, degenerated discs in the upper or lower back develop bone spurs (bony growths) that irritate or compress the surrounding nerves, causing numbness, tingling or sharp pain that radiates to the arms, wrists, fingers, buttocks, upper thighs and legs.
  • Severe symptoms. There are some serious symptoms you should never ignore that may accompany this disease. These include leg weakness that results in difficulty walking and incontinence. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, seek emergency medical care.

Unfortunately, this disease doesn’t improve over time and there is no cure. If you’re experiencing symptoms, don’t ignore them. Take action before your condition gets worse by scheduling a consultation with a spinal specialist. There are many pain management treatments and minimally invasive procedures that can drastically improve your quality of life.

If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms above, you may have degenerative disc disease. The only way to know for sure is to visit your doctor and get an official diagnosis. They will learn the severity of your case and help you find relief. 

Your doctor will likely start your consultation by looking into your history and asking questions like:

  • When did your back pain begin?
  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • What is the intensity of the pain? Is it sharp, numbing or stabbing?
  • Does your back pain radiate to other areas of your body?
  • Are there any activities or conditions that worsen or help with the pain?
  • Did you experience an injury that could be related?
  • Is there a history of chronic back pain or spine conditions in your family?

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 questions you have for your doctor

Collecting your medical history is only part of the diagnosis process. You may also 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, they may also require the following tests:

  • X-Rays: This test can help provide bone structure details in the spine.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan: This scan provides a detailed image of discs and a better look at how nerves and vertebrae are affected by the discs.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: This scan will provide a more detailed image of bone structures in the spine and may be used as an alternative for patients who cannot undergo MRI scans.

After you’ve been diagnosed with this DDD, your doctor may recommend various types of treatment. 

Pain Medications

To help with pain management, they might recommend over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, prescription medications or muscle relaxants in cases where the surrounding nerves are impacted, which can cause painful muscle spasms. 

Epidural Steroid Injections

Your doctor may also suggest an epidural steroid injection — a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that reduces inflammation and alleviates back pain. These shots are quick and simple, and have been shown to help immensely with DDD treatment. 

Lifestyle Changes

In mild cases where a sedentary lifestyle or obesity are risk factors that could worsen symptoms, 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 at-home exercises and may recommend a back brace for increased stability. 


If conservative treatment doesn’t help, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to alleviate your symptoms. 

  • Artificial disc replacement.  An artificial disc replacement uses an anterior technique to replace the damaged disc without interrupting the motion of the cervical spine. 
  • Spinal fusion. 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.

Next Steps: Living With Degenerative Disc Disease

If you’re experiencing symptoms of this 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. Communicate any changes with your doctor and schedule 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, there are some things you want to avoid with degenerative disc disease. Practice good posture and avoid strenuous activities or being completely sedentary — both of which could worsen your condition.

Can We Help?

It takes a doctor with experience treating Degenerative Disc Disease to determine the right solution for you. Schedule an appointment today to learn how to reduce or eliminate degenerative disc disease.

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