Degenerative Disc Disease

What is degenerative disc disease?

Located between the vertebrae, spinal discs act shock absorbers and to allow motion in the spine. Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is a term used to describe changes to the disc that adversely affect these functions.  This process occurs naturally as we age, but may be accelerated by injury or repetitive stress to the spine.

Each disc is comprised of a tough outer ring called the annulus fibrosis, and a gel filled center called the nucleus pulposus.  With degenerative disc disease the outer ring may become damaged and crack or compress.  When this happens, the gel in the center may leak or be forced out of the disc.

What are the common symptoms?

Symptoms of DDD may include pain in the affected area and can be quite severe. Symptoms vary from person to person, but the pain is often chronic, and you may experience periods of increased symptoms lasting days or even months. The pain can increase with activities such as bending and twisting.  If the location of the affected disc(s) is in the lower back, sitting can exacerbate symptoms as well.

How do you diagnose degenerative disc disease?

To diagnose DDD, your physician will review your health history and perform a physical examination.  They may also recommend imaging such as x-ray or MRI to assist in diagnosis.

How is neck pain treated?

Treatment is usually conservative and may include medication or other measures to control pain. Physical therapy is also often helpful.  If conservative measures are ineffective, surgery may be required.

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