Not a disease in the traditional sense of the word, degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition that describes pain due to a damaged disc (or multiple discs) in the spine. These discs are supposed to act like a shock absorber, preventing the vertebrae from rubbing together and pinching nerves. As we age, however, these discs begin to dry out, becoming less effective. Wear in the spine is common for many individuals, though in most cases, no symptoms ever appear. For those with DDD, chronic back pain can severely affect the quality of life.
Signs and Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease affects over three million people each year. There are many signs and symptoms associated with it. If the degenerated disc is in the lower back, pain can radiate to the hips, buttocks and thighs. Pain can also be increased by sitting for long periods of time or by repetitive movements such as bending over, twisting or lifting. If the degenerated disc is in the upper back, the cervical or thoracic spine, the pain will tend to radiate toward the neck and even through the shoulders and arms, all the way down to the hands and fingers. No matter what the location of the affected disc, tingling, weakness and even numbness may also be experienced. Any of these signs and symptoms can sometimes be crippling, affecting your ability to move, walk or even stand.
Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment Options
Though it cannot be cured, there are several options available to treat degenerative disc disease. Fortunately, in some cases it can be treated without surgery. You may feel a great reduction in pain through physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications such as non-steroid drugs or steroid injections. If, after several months of treatment, these methods prove unsuccessful and you are still suffering in daily activities, surgery may become necessary. There are several types of surgery options, some of which include:
- Artificial disc replacement: The disc is removed from between the vertebrae and replaced with another material that works in a very similar fashion.
- Anterior lumbar interbody fusion: This procedure removes the affected disc from the lower back and is filled with bone to allow fusion to take place.
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion: This treatment is similar to the lumbar interbody fusion, except that it takes place in the upper spine.
- Cervical corpectomy: During this procedure part of the vertebrae, as well as other discs, are removed so that the spine can properly decompress. The spine is then stabilized with a bone graft or a metal plate.
Degenerative disc disease can significantly affect your quality of life. Living with chronic day-to-day pain can be unbearable. Fortunately, there are treatments out there that can greatly help ease this pain and allow you to live your life as normally as possible. Please contact us today for more information on the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative disc disease.