Conditions

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is not a disease – it is normal aging of the spinal discs that separate interlocking spine bones (vertebrae). The gel discs can breakdown (osteoarthritis), bulge or break open (herniation), and create nerve irritation, pressure, and pain.
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Symptoms

Degenerative disc disease may result in back, neck, arm, leg, or buttock pain. It can make bending, lifting, and twisting difficult and limit exercise or social activities. For some patients, lying down with a pillow between the knees, changing positions, walking, and even running may feel better than prolonged sitting or standing.

Causes

Sometimes it starts after an accident like a fall, sports injury, or car accident. Other times everyday motion, bending over or lifting something can trigger the pain. Pain can also appear gradually over time without any particular reason at all.

Treatments

Patients have a variety of treatments to choose from including self or alternative care, medications, therapies, procedures, and surgeries. 

Self Care

Physicians recommend avoiding nicotine, excess alcohol, and staying in one position for too long. Staying hydrated, watching the weight, and incorporating daily motion like stretching, walking, or core strengthening exercises (stomach and back) can help reduce pain.

Alternative Care

Alternative or complementary medicine can provide pain relief for a herniated disc. Chiropractic manipulation and massages can provide temporary lower back pain relief. Acupuncture and yoga can help reduce pain and improve function in both the neck and back.

Medications

Patients can try over-the-counter (OTC) acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti- inflammatory medications (Ibuprofen or Naproxen) to reduce mild to moderate pain. If the pain does not improve, physicians can treat the nerve pain with opioids (Oxycodone) or anticonvulsants (Gabapentin). Muscle spasms can be treated with relaxers (Cyclobenzaprine), and antidepressants (Amitriptyline) can help psychological conditions that make the perception of pain worse.

Therapies

Heat or ice packs can help reduce pain, and once the pain improves, physical therapy and ergonomics can help prevent future injuries. Psychotherapy and meditation can help cope with depression, anxiety, or exhaustion that makes pain worse.

Surgery

For some patients, surgery is a consideration if conservative treatments fail and activities of daily living are significantly disrupted. Surgery can repair, replace, or remove a damaged disc, and sometimes require a vertebrae fusion to provide spinal stability and protection.

Specialists

These doctors specialize in degenerative disc disease and can help diagnose, treat, and manage your condition.

Physiatrist

A doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation that treats both acute and chronic pain with a variety of nonsurgical treatments.

Neurosurgeon

A surgeon that diagnoses and treats pain resulting from disorders of the spine, spinal cord, nerves, brain, intracranial, and intraspinal vasculature. 

Orthopedic Surgeon

A surgeon that diagnoses and treats pain resulting from spinal disorders, arthritis, sports injuries, trauma, and fractures.

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