The spinal discs are like shock absorbers, acting as a means of cushioning between the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. These discs allow our spines to maintain a certain level of flexibility in order to bend, twist and move in certain directions. When these discs breakdown there are a number of issues that occur.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative Disc Disease is one of the most common spinal issues affecting both men and women across the US. As we age, our spinal discs, like the rest of our body, goes through normal wear and tear, and begins to slowly deteriorate. As these discs begin to deteriorate, as a result of aging, the vertebrae lose their cushioning and shock absorbers, causing pain and other symptoms.
Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease
Our spinal discs are made up of a soft, inner core and a tough outer wall. As the discs degenerate, this structure begins to breakdown, leading to degenerative disc disease.
- Dry Out – At birth, our spinal discs are made up mostly of water. However, as we age, these spinal discs begin to lose water, and dry out – becoming thinner over time. As the discs thin out, they can no longer absorb shocks as well as they previously could, and there is less padding between our vertebrae. This can cause severe pain and discomfort in the spine.
- Damaged or Cracked Discs – Whether it be the stress of everyday movements, minor injuries, or a sudden incident of trauma, as the spinal discs grow weaker by the day, these incidents can cause micro-tears in the outer shell of the disc. This can cause a great deal of pain, considering the outer wall is home to an array of nerves. As the outer shell breaks, the soft inner core will begin to push through, causing the disc to bulge or slip out of place – this is known as a herniated disc.
Degenerative Disc Disease can be characterized by a number of different symptoms, that affect both the back and the neck. The symptoms are dependent upon the location of the damaged or weakened discs. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle Spasms
- Loss of Feeling & Touch Sensation
- Tingling or Burning Sensations in the Arms & Legs
- Loss of Flexibility
- Mobility Issues
- Pain in Areas Such as:
- Upper & Lower Back
- Legs & Thighs
These symptoms may often worsen while standing or sitting for long periods of time.
Once you are diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, the main goal of treatment is to ease the pain and prevent any further damage to the discs. Whether surgery will be necessary or not is dependent on how advanced the condition has gotten.
Non-Surgical Options include:
- Physical Therapy – Exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles to support the spine. Used in conjunction with pain meds.
- Medication – Less severe disc issues will require a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs & pain relievers both OTC & prescription.
- Steroid Shots – An epidural shot or corticosteroid will help to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
If the less invasive options are ineffective, than surgery may be required. These surgical options include:
- Decompression Surgery – Often times pain from degenerative disc disease is caused by compression of the nerves. To alleviate this pain, decompression surgery may be necessary. Depending on what is causing the compression, procedures like a Facetectomy or Foraminotomy can be performed. Sometimes these are performed in conjunction with spinal fusion.
- Minimally Invasive Microdiscectomy – Another form of compression surgery, the minimally-invasive discectomy removes all or part of a damaged or herniated disc – smaller incisions allow for faster recovery time.
- Stabilization Surgery – Once a disc or other area of the spine is removed, there may be some instability. To stabilize the spine, we may recommend fusion surgery or the use of spinal instrumentation – cables, rods, wires, etc.
For more information about Degenerative Disc Disease treatment, other spinal issues, or to schedule a consultation, contact Dr. Arutyunyantoday.