What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
The individual bones in the spine are called vertebra. In between each vertebra is a rubbery disc of cartilage that absorbs shock and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. Over time, these discs can start to wear down and shrink. This is known as degenerative disc disease (DDD). The more the discs erode, the more pain a person feels in their back. If the condition becomes severe enough, it can cause osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and other chronic back pain conditions.
Degenerative disc disease at a glance:
- Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a chronic condition that causes the discs separating the vertebrae to erode.
- The more the discs degrade, some patients may feel more pain in the back and neck.
- Aging, genetics, and smoking are all contributing factors to DDD, but there is no definitive cause at this time.
- Treatment for DDD often starts with physical therapy and medication.
- Surgery may be called for if conservative treatments fail.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
DDD does not usually have symptoms in the early stages. Most people become aware of it after sustaining an injury to the back or neck. Even when they recover from their injury, they may still experience aches and pains because the discs are not repairing.
Blood and oxygen are critical to the body’s healing process. Unfortunately, the discs have very limited access to blood, so they not able to fully repair from damage. Pain is usually at its worst when trying to move the back or neck.
Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease
There is no cure for DDD at this time, but there are many treatments that can manage the symptoms and slow its progress. Most physicians will start treatment by recommending physical therapy, exercise, and other conservative treatments. Losing weight can also help take some of the strain off your spine.
Surgery is usually not recommended for DDD except in extreme cases where no other treatments are proving effective.