What’s Degenerative Disc Disease?
Despite its name, degenerative disc disease (DDD) is not actually a disease, but a medical condition of back pain, leg pain, weakness, and instability stemming from a degenerated disc in the spine. DDD is commonly misunderstood, and even the brightest medical minds may disagree over its diagnosis.
Let’s start with the disc. An intervertebral disc is the round piece of soft tissue that forms a fibrocartilaginous joint between two vertebrae. The disc lubricates the joint, allowing for small movements, and it also serves as a ligament, keeping the individual vertebrae aligned.
Like any joint tissue, a spinal disc may degenerate with age. This “wear and tear” on the disc, a.k.a. disc degeneration, can lead to intense and severe pain.
Pain flare-ups have two main causes. For one, disc degeneration will leak out proteins, which can cause inflammation, and trigger tenderness and muscle spasms. And two, without the disc’s protective cushioning, limiting disc space, tiny, abnormal micro-movements between the vertebrae can irritate the neighboring tissues, including muscles, facet joints, and nerve roots.
This may happen anywhere along the vertebral column, resulting in specific sub-types of degenerative disc disease, such as:
- Degenerative disc disease in the neck
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease
- Multilevel degenerative disc disease
Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms
Symptoms of DDD can vary greatly from person to person. A full physical examination and review of medical history are recommended to properly diagnose and treat DDD. And in fact, the amount of pain does not necessarily correlate to the amount of degeneration in the spine. Some patients with a medical history of severely damaged discs report little or no pain at all. On the other hand, some milder cases of DDD can cause patients a great deal of pain, even though there is little damage to the spine or spinal nerve, limiting daily activities.
Some common symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:
- Low, continuous pain surrounding the affected disc.
- Occasional flare-ups of debilitating pain, with or without an obvious trigger.
- Pain when bending or twisting the spine.
- Pain during heavy lifting.
- The spine locks up or “gives out.”
- Muscle spasms.
- Muscle tension.
- Hot, sharp, or stabbing pain in the shoulder, arm, or hand; or hip, buttocks, or leg.
- Pain while sitting or standing or long periods of time.
- Pain while looking down at a phone or book.
- Low back pain.
- Chronic pain.
- Ease of symptoms when stretching, or taking short walks throughout the day.
Treatment For Degenerative Disc Disease
DDD is one of the most common causes of chronic lower back and neck pain. But thanks to advancements in spine pain management, there are many treatment options available to you at Nuvo Spine, including:
- Disc-FX: Accesses the damaged disc and treats the damaged tissue without injury to surrounding disc anatomy.
- Stem Cell: Nonsurgical, minimally-invasive procedure that accelerates the body’s natural healing processes.
- A2M: Natural healing method that prevents cartilage breakdown, promotes tissue growth and supports the overall restoration of an affected joint.
- Transforaminal Epidural: Epidural steroid injection and anesthetic can reduce inflammation, relieving pressure off of pain-generating nerves
- Facet Injections (also called Facet Block Injections) for pain relief
- Physical Therapy: PT can reduce pain while improve range of motion, flexibility and strength,
With over 10 years of experience, our award-winning physician specializes in minimally-invasive and nonsurgical treatment for degenerative disc disease.