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As people age, it is normal for the joints in the body to wear down. You may be aware that your hip and knee joints can weaken as you get older, but did you know this can also happen to the joints your spine? The wearing down of the spine joints is called degenerative disc disease, and it can be quite painful. If you’ve been experiencing degenerative disc disease symptoms, the team at Endeavor Health Neurosciences Institute’s Advanced Neurosciences Center can help bring you relief. Learn what causes degenerative disc disease and how we can help. 

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a disorder of the spine that occurs when one or more discs between the vertebrae become worn down, causing pain and discomfort. It can be caused by age-related wear and tear, injury, or an underlying condition like arthritis. Degenerative disc disease can lead to chronic back pain, stiffness, decreased mobility, and other back problems, such as adult scoliosis and spinal stenosis.

Nearly everyone over age 40 has some disc degeneration, even if they are asymptomatic. Degenerative discs lead to back pain in only approximately 5% of adults. While age is the primary factor in disc degeneration, there are a few factors that can increase your risk including:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Sex (women are more likely to experience symptoms)
  • Injuries, such as those sustained from falling or a car accident
  • Strenuous physical work
A doctor goes over medical information

Symptoms of degenerative disc disease

Degenerative discs may cause no symptoms at all, or they may cause severe and intense pain, disrupting daily life and activities. Degenerative disc disease symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the neck or back that may radiate into the arms or legs
  • Weakness, numbness, tingling, or feeling “pins and needles” in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty bending over to touch your toes
  • Loss of flexibility and range of motion
  • Pain that comes and goes

Diagnosing degenerative disc disease

To diagnose degenerative disc disease, your doctor might ask you questions about your pain and how it affects your daily life. They may also do a physical exam to assess muscle strength, range of motion, pain levels, and nerve function. Your doctor might also order tests, such as an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, for a better look at the spine and to check for any changes in the discs that could be causing pain. 

What causes degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease can be caused by a variety of factors, including age-related wear and tear, trauma or injury, or underlying condition. Discs between the vertebrae become less spongy and more brittle with age.

However, not everyone experiences pain with disc degeneration. You might experience pain if one of the following happens:

  • Discs dry out: The discs in your back have a soft, fluid-filled core. As you age, the core loses fluid, causing the discs to provide less shock absorption.
  • Discs crack or tear: Tiny cracks or tears in the outer layer of the disc may cause your discs to bulge and compress spinal nerves. Or the disc may break into fragments.

Treatment for degenerative disc disease

Fortunately, treatments for degenerative disc disease are available that can help reduce pain and improve quality of life. Our team of spine specialists at Advanced Neurosciences Center use the most innovative, minimally invasive approaches and customize a treatment plan tailored to you. Treatment options include: 

Stretching and low-impact exercise can help alleviate symptoms. Your provider can instruct you on the best positions to try. 

Physical therapy can help you strengthen muscles and stabilize discs. 

Over-the-counter medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce inflammation. Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers if the pain is severe.

Periodic steroid injections can help decrease pain and swelling. 

If you have severe and persistent pain that has not responded to other treatments, you may need surgery. There are several options, including spinal fusion or decompression surgery. The surgeons at the Advanced Neurosciences Center will work with you to determine the best approach.

What to do after a degenerative disc disease diagnosis

Knowing what things to avoid with degenerative disc disease is important for effectively managing symptoms. You should avoid:

  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Doing repetitive activities
  • Sitting for long periods
  • Smoking

If you have been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, it can be an overwhelming experience. This condition can cause chronic pain and discomfort that affects your daily life and gets in the way of doing the things you love. But there is hope. At the Advanced Neurosciences Center, we specialize in diagnosing and treating this condition with an individualized, minimally invasive approach. Let us help.  

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