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Degenerative Disc Disease

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative Disc Disease is a chronic and often painful condition. This condition happens when one or more of the vertebral discs (cushions between the vertebrae) become damaged and weakened and no longer work as shock absorbers for the movement of the spine.

Degenerative disc disease can be a result of the natural aging process or by injury to the back at any age. It begins when small tears appear in the disc wall. The tears cause pain in the back at the site of the tear. Gradually the the tears heal, causing scar tissue to form. This scar tissue is not as strong as the original disc wall. Over time, the disc weakens and the nucleus of the disc becomes damaged and loses some of it's water content.

As the nucleus of the disc continues to lose it's water content, the disc itself is unable to act as a shock absorber. And, without the shock absorber, the vertebrae above and below the damaged disc start to slide together and in turn the facet joints (areas where the vertebral bones touch), twist into an unnatural position. Eventually bone spurs may form, which, if left untreated can lead to spinal stenosis (pinching of the spinal cord and sciatic nerve).

Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

  • Back pain - strong pain may come and go
  • Pain, numbness or tingling in the legs (sciatica)
  • Pain may worsen when bending, twisting, lifting or sitting
  • Lying down may relieve pain (lying with a pillow under the knees or lying on a recliner - since these positions relieve the stress on the lumbar disc space.)
  • Walking or running may actually feel better than prolonged sitting or standing
  • Patients will tend to feel better when changing positions frequently

Non-Surgical or Conservative Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Pain medication (acetaminophen, NSAIDs, oral steroids, narcotic drugs, and muscle relaxants)
  • Epidural injections
  • Physical therapy & exercise

Surgical Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF)
  • Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion (XLIF)
  • Artifical disc replacement surgery
  • Minimally invasive spine surgery
  • Spinal Fusion

Schedule an appointment with a spine doctor at Newport Orthopedic Institute today to ensure you receive a proper diagnosis and receive evidence-based treatment options for your back pain.

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