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Degenerative Disc Symptoms & Treatment

Overview

The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. These bones are separated intervertebral discs, which act as shock absorbers and allow the spine to bend.

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As people age, discs age, too. They are not as flexible anymore, because they lose fluid and shrink, moving vertebrae closer together. This natural aging process is called degenerative disc disease (even though it is not a disease-related condition). Most often, degenerative disc disease is found in discs of the low back and the neck.

disc in spine

The disc is made up of two main parts: the firm outer layer and the soft inner layer. When a disc is damaged, the outer layer can tear, causing the inner layer to bulge, leak or break off and place pressure on nerves roots in the spine, which can cause pain in other areas of the body. Even if the degenerative disc does not press on any nerves, you can still experience achiness in your back or neck.

degenerative

While the term “degenerative” suggests the condition gets worse over time, this is often not the case. Discs degenerate in everyone, but degenerative disc symptoms caused by this condition can be improved and even completely resolved.

Degenerative discs can cause the facets to be more painful when pressure increases. It is called lumbar facet syndrome when a disc collapses and begins to move abnormally.

Causes

  • Natural aging process (can be asymptomatic)
  • Can be more common in people who smoke
  • Can be more common in people who often do physical labor
  • Trauma leading to a herniated disc can lead to degenerative disc disease

Symptoms

  • Low back ache
  • Pain, numbness or weakness in other areas of the body depending on where on the spine the disc has herniated. You may experience shooting or radiating pain in your arms, leg or neck
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
    • If you have these symptoms, seek medical help immediately your nearest Emergency Room or hospital
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of range-of-motion

Diagnosis

One of our physicians will give a physical exam to identify degenerative disc symptoms. A herniated disc can also be diagnosed by X-ray, MRI or CT scan.

Treatment

Coastal Spine has several methods of providing degenerative disc treatments.

  • Physical therapy: Often, herniated discs can be treated non-surgically by strengthening the muscles of the back and core through physical therapy and exercise. This treatment also includes stretching exercises and traction that help relieve pain
  • If physical therapy alone does not relieve the pain, cortisone injections or epidural steroid injections by our specialty-trained physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians will be directed to the pinched nerve or nerves in question. Often, a series of these may help to break the pain cycle
  • Medication: Our specialists are likely to prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce swelling issues associated with a herniated disc
  • If pain continues, then surgery may be needed. Degenerative disc disease surgery is usually performed using minimally invasive techniques by our board-certified, fellowship- and specialty-trained surgeons
  • Some surgical options for back pain due to degenerative discs include minimally invasive fusion or an artificial disc replacement