Degenerative Disc Disease: What You Should Know

Posted by Lubbock Heart and Surgical Hospital on May 15, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Degenerative Disc Disease: What You Should Know

While studies suggest more than 3 million cases of Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) are diagnosed per year – and most patients are told the condition cannot be cured – treatment can help.

Knowledge is power. If you’ve been diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease, take time to speak with your doctor to learn the causes – and treatment options – so you can take the right steps toward pain relief.

Degenerative Disc Disease (often referred to as Degenerative Disc Disorder or spondylosis), is a painful health issue. While many are afflicted with the disorder after the age of 50, some have it genetically inherited.

Here’s how the spine is composed: Each vertebrae of the spine has a cushioning disc – composed of a gel-like center. When the cartilage in these discs weaken and/or the water and protein content slowly decreases, pain is inevitable. The two most common areas of the spine to see disc degeneration are the neck (cervical degenerative Disc Disease) and the lower back (lumbar degenerative Disc Disease) due to their constant range of motion and weight-bearing properties.

As the discs wear down, there is a reduction in the normal space between vertebrae. The smaller disc space can be seen in X-rays or MRI scans, which will allow for an accurate diagnosis of the condition.

Degeneration of disc tissue makes a person more likely to suffer herniation, which can cause extreme pain in the affected area. Disc degeneration can occur at the cervical, thoracic and lumbar levels of the spine causing pain within the damaged disc itself and radiating pain along the nerves that emerge from the spinal canal.

In fact, many people may suffer a bulging or herniated disc and never feel it in the disc itself, but rather, to the nerves serving the spinal column.

Ever talked to a friend, family member – or felt yourself – dropping items in the left or right hand and had a radiating pain under one or both shoulder blades? This may be a sign of a spinal disc issue. While you or your loved one may not feel it directly in the spinal column, a bulging or herniated disc may be pinching nerves that affect normal daily function.

Tingling in the shoulders, back of arms, forearms, wrists and fingers are all signs of potential cervical disc issues.

Thoracic spinal deterioration can create symptoms in the inner arms, chest and even the abdomen.

Lumbar spinal deterioration may manifest itself as lower back pain, but in addition, many people will feel weakness, numbness or discomfort in the buttocks, legs or feet.

Bottom line: While DDD was initially called a “disease,” it’s better to think of it as a “disorder.” While there is no simple cure for DDD; medicine continues to find new answers.

Surgery isn’t always one. For many, pain specialists are able to perform epidural steroid injections (ESI) at the site of the injured disc and prescribe therapy to improve range of motion.

For those who do require surgery, DDD patients can rest assured disc surgery is generally day surgery and with proper physical therapy, a brighter, pain free future is on the horizon!

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Topics: Patient Education, General Health & Wellness, What to Expect