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Degenerative Disc Disease: What Is It and What Can Be Done About It?

September 18, 2015


Here at Orthopaedic Specialists of Austin, we always take great care when helping patients address their neck and back pain. This includes careful consideration of non-surgical therapies for neck and back problems as well as advanced spine surgery options to reduce pain and restore mobility and flexibility.

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a common issue that many people face later in life. Let's look at the causes of the condition and what treatments are available.

About Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a condition that naturally occurs in many people as part of the natural aging process. To understand the problem, let's first consider the nature of the spine.

Between each vertebrae is a spinal disc, which is a soft shock absorber between the bone that helps with the overall flexibility and range of motion of the spine. Over time, these discs change in terms of their overall condition, either as a result of fluid loss or cracks and tears in the disc itself. This leads to issues with lower back pain

What happens when the discs break down?

In addition to causes neck and back pain, the degeneration of the discs can also lead to osteoarthritis, a slipped disc (aka herniated disc), or spinal stenosis. Each of these problems can lead to problems with flexibility and overall mobility and should be taken seriously.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

The most common signs and symptoms of degenerative disc disease include the following:

  • Pain in the neck or back (often the lower back)
  • Increased pain when bending or lifting
  • Discomfort when sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Chronic pain lasting for a few days to a few months
  • Tingling around the spine or in the extremities

During a doctor visit, x-rays, computer imaging, and other kinds of diagnostic tests will be performed to diagnose the condition.

Physical Therapy and Low Impact Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease

There are a number of light exercises and stretches that can help reduce pain and improve flexibility in the back and neck. Working with a physical therapist can similarly help in the proper management of degenerative disc disease.

Pain Relievers and Medication for Degenerative Disc Disease

A combination of different drugs can be taken to alleviate pain, including over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and so on. Patients may also be instructed to use hot or cold compresses on the part of the spine that is affected.

Chiropractic Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease

Proper care from a chiropractor can help restore mobility and flexibility to a person's spine. Typically this is combined with other therapies to improve overall wellness.

Alternative Medicine for Degenerative Disc Disease

Alternative medicine is sometimes part of treating degenerative disc disease when traditional therapies fail. It may also be a supplement to traditional treatments. Alternative medicine includes acupuncture, biofeedback, and herbal medicines.

Surgical Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease

If a person's degenerative disc disease is so severe that less invasive therapies prove ineffective, surgical treatment is then considered. Typically this is reserved for cases in which the degenerative disc disease results in loss of bladder and bowel control and major numbness and tingling in the extremities.

Surgeries for degenerative disc disease will often involve the removal and/or replacement of the damaged disc, and potentially the fusing of vertebrae in the affected region of the spinal cord. The exact surgery for your situation can be discussed during a consultation.

Learn More About Orthopaedic Specialists of Austin

For more information about treating degenerative disc disease, be sure to contact our orthopedic surgery specialists today. We at Orthopaedic Specialists of Austin will work with you to alleviate pain and restore overall health and wellness.