Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a common cause of pain in the lower back and neck. The name of this condition is a bit confusing because it is not actually a disease. Degenerative disc disease refers to wear on the spinal discs over time, which can result in pain.

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

Discs are located between the bones in the spine, which are called vertebrae. The discs act as shock absorbers in the spine and allow the back to be flexible. Discs are made up of a thick, tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus, which surrounds a soft, gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus. As with other tissues in the body, wear and tear over time can damage the discs. Discs receive very little blood supply; when you injure a disc, it cannot repair itself because it does not have enough of a blood supply to do so. Our discs also dry out and lose water content as we age, leaving the discs more susceptible to injury. Over time, this damage to the discs can progress to the point that you experience back pain, leading to degenerative disc disease.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Back pain is the most common symptom of degenerative disc disease. For patients with degenerative disc disease, pain often gets worse when sitting, bending, lifting, or twisting. Patients are often more comfortable while walking, rather than sitting or standing for long periods of time, and they feel better when they change positions often.

Degenerative disc disease is most common in the neck and lower back. Pain is common in the location of the affected disc or discs, but can also radiate to the arms, hands, buttocks, or thighs depending on the location of the affected discs. Pain can range from more of a nagging pain to severe, disabling pain. Patients may also experience episodes of severe pain that lasts from a few days to a few months before subsiding. In the most severe cases, numbness, tingling, or weakness may be present in the arms or legs, which is a sign of nerve damage.

Treatment of Degenerative Disc Disease

We offer both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options for degenerative disc disease. We recommend treatment options on a case-by-case basis, following a medical exam and diagnostic imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis. We often recommend nonsurgical treatment first, unless the patient’s condition is severe and disabling.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Our goal with nonsurgical treatment is to manage the pain and inflammation caused by degenerative disc disease. We may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, which are available over the counter. Muscle relaxers may be recommended to help with pain from muscle spasms. We may also recommend spinal injections to help with pain and inflammation.

Pain management will allow patients with degenerative disc disease to participate in mild activity and physical therapy. Patients may rest for a short period if they experience a severe episode of pain, but too much rest could actually make pain worse. Physical therapy and mild activities like walking, cycling, or swimming can improve pain because they help the patient regain strength and flexibility in the muscles that support the spine.

If the patient does not respond after several months of nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be recommended.

Surgical Treatment

There are two types of surgery that may be recommended for degenerative disc disease: spinal decompression or spinal fusion. In some cases, we may perform a spinal decompression alongside a spinal fusion.

We may recommend spinal decompression if the damaged disc results in compression of a nerve. This procedure involves removing a portion of bone or tissue to relieve the pressure on the nerve. In some cases, the disc may be removed completely, requiring a spinal fusion to stabilize the spine.

During a spinal fusion, the damaged disc is removed, and the vertebrae above and below the disc space are fused together using a bone graft. We may use plates, rods, or screws to provide further stability as the bones heal and fuse together.

Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease at CNA

At Coast Neurosurgical Associates, we use state of the art diagnostic tools to make the best possible treatment recommendations for our patients. Every patient is unique, and our goal is to create a treatment plan for degenerative disc disease that will meet the needs of each individual patient. If you would like more information about our treatment options for degenerative disc disease, or if would like to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced physicians, please contact our office at (562) 595-7696.

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2888 Long Beach Blvd. Suite 240
Long Beach, CA 90806

Phone: 562.595.7696
Fax: 562.988.1559