What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

January 21, 2013

What is going on with the disc?

Degenerative disc disease refers to the gradual deterioration of the intervertebral disc. The intervertebral disc consists of a soft central part called the nucleus and a tough outer ring called the annulus. A healthy disc is basically made up of water, a group of fibrous protein called collagen, and another class of protein called proteoglycan. As we age, the disc begins to lose its water content and gradually becomes dehydrated. As a result, the disc becomes thinner, and it begins to lose its ability to absorb shock. Eventually, daily wear and tear starts to take a toll on the disc, causing the annulus to crack and the disc to bulge or rupture.

Degenerative disc disease symptoms

Back or neck pain and stiffness are generally the most common degenerative disc disease symptoms. The symptoms often get worse following heavy physical activity. Staying in one posture (eg, sitting in front of the computer) for an extended period tends to worsen the symptoms as well. The pain often comes and goes in the beginning. But without appropriate treatment, it may gradually get worse. And eventually the pain may extend to other parts of the body such as the buttocks or the arms, depending on the location of the degeneration.

Degenerative disc disease treatment

Nonsurgical treatment. When it comes to degenerative disc disease treatment, doctors almost always start with nonsurgical options first. The goal is to reduce the pain and ease other degenerative disc disease symptoms. Most common nonsurgical degenerative disc disease treatment options include physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication. Back brace may also be used temporally to stabilize the spine. Epidural steroid injections are sometimes used to relieve severe pain as well. However, epidural steroid injection can only produce short-term pain relief. Its long-term use for treating back pain is controversial.

Surgical treatment. Surgical treatment should be the last resort. If the symptoms do not improve after at least three months of nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be considered. For more information about degenerative disc disease surgery, visit http://www.atlanticspinecenter.com/spinehealth/conditions/degenerative-disc-disease/surgery/.