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Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is not technically a ‘disease’ but rather a term that describes the changes that occur in the spinal discs as the body ages. Spinal discs, which are located between the vertebrae in the back, serve as shock absorbers and enable bending, twisting and flexibility in a young, healthy back. As the body grows older, spinal discs grow smaller, and in some cases, they may even shrink to the point that the vertebrae rub together, causing stiffness and discomfort.

Although almost all people will experience some degeneration of the spinal discs as they age, not everyone has back pain. Persons with degenerated discs who also have pain not caused by another condition are thought to have degenerative disc disease.

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

Some people may be genetically predisposed to developing degenerative disc disease, and in rare instances, this condition may also occur as a result of trauma. However, in most cases degenerative disc disease is caused by wear and tear of the spinal discs through aging, daily activities and/or sports.

Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of DDD can vary, though most patients experience a low level of continuous back pain that may intensify over certain periods. This pain is usually caused by inflammation of the nerves surrounding the discs or when the annulus fibrosus, the outer rings of the spinal disc, wear down to the point that they can no longer absorb force or stress. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain in the buttocks and thighs
  • Pain in the neck that may radiate to the arms and hands
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Weakness in the leg or foot muscles

Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosis

The spine specialists at Mischer Neuroscience Associates utilize a variety of state-of-the-art methods to diagnose DDD. These tests may include:

  • Medical history
  • Physical exam to test muscle strength and range of motion
  • MRI

Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease

Most cases of DDD can be treated with medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pain relievers, heat or ice applications, or physical therapy. Patients who still experience pain or are significantly restricted in their daily movements after the application of these conservative methods may consider surgery to remove the deteriorated disc and fuse the vertebrae.

Neck and Spine Regions

In medical terminology, the spine is divided into regions that correspond to their position along the vertebrae in the backbone.  These sections are:

  • Cervical vertebrae in the neck (C1-C7)
  • Thoracic vertebrae in the upper back (T1-T12)
  • Lumbar vertebrae in the lower back (L1-L5)
  • Sacral vertebrae in the pelvic region (S1-S5)

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