FAQ’s on Degenerative Disc Disease
What is degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease, but rather a condition that affects people that have damaged the intervertebral discs of the spine (either through injury or age related causes). The intervertebral disc is made up of an inner soft core called the nucleus puposus consisting of proteins that can cause any tissue they contact to become swollen (so can cause pain if it comes into contact with nerves).
This soft pulpous inner core is surrounded by an outer shell called the annulus fibrosus, this outer shell contains nerves and if ruptured through injury or other means can become very painful if the nerve is damaged or if the pulpous inner nucleus pulposus comes into contact with these nerves (Biological evaluation of human degenerated nucleus pulposus cells in functionalized self-assembling peptide nanofiber hydrogel scaffold.2014). The problem with injury to these discs is they do not have a blood supply like other body tissues, so they cannot repair themselves and heal as other tissues can.
Who can get degenerative disc disease?
Anyone may suffer from degenerative disc disease. Often a spinal injury can damage
a disc and from that beginning the condition will exacerbate. Persons with jobs that require repeated heavy lifting or older persons ( especially women) with osteoporosis are at higher risk for ruptured discs which can lead to degenerative disc disease (Ageing and degenerative changes of the intervertebraldisc and their impact on spinal flexibility.2014). Active persons in their thirties and forties are more susceptible to degenerative disc disease due to their active lifestyle increasing normal wear and the risk of injury.
What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include increased pain when sitting, increased pain with bending, twisting, lifting weight or squatting. Pain lessens when walking compared to sitting. Pain lessens while lying down, although frequently changing positions is necessary. Persons with degenerative disc disease may find it easier to walk than to sit, intermittent pain that varies in severity from mild to severe and disabling.
This pain is can affect not only the area immediately near the affected disc but may also radiate throughout the body, especially along nerves that may be affected by the injured disc (High mechanical strain of primary intervertebraldisc cells promotes secretion of inflammatory factors associated with discdegeneration and pain.2014). Pain can be experienced throughout the back, neck, thighs, legs, arms and hands. There may also be tingling and numbness, weakness in the leg muscles and foot drop. Weakness in the leg muscles and foot drop is often indicative of damage to the nerve root.
Diagnosing degenerative disc disease
Diagnosis may begin with the physician looking into your medical history for potential causes related to injury, but the only true way of diagnosing the condition is through the use of MRI in order to get a real image of the structure of the spine and searching for the obvious indicators of the condition such as bulging and ruptured discs (Lumbar discdegenerativedisease: discdegeneration symptoms and magnetic resonance image findings.2013).
What procedures are available for treating degenerative disc disease?
Treatment for degenerative disc disease consist of several non-surgical procedures that may help the patient find relief, these include acupuncture, the use of back braces, and chiropractic care may help some patients. Pain management involving opioid analgesic medications and corticosteroid injections to alleviate pain are very common methods of treating degenerative disc disease. Many persons receiving these injections can experience relief for weeks or even months after the procedure.
Most persons that are involved with pain management will experience some level of relief but it will vary between patients depending on the severity of their condition and how they respond to the medications used in their treatment. Often physical therapy can help in the treatment of the condition by strengthening the muscles of the back in order to help support the spinal structure and slow the degeneration process.
Some patients may require surgical intervention in order to find relief from the pain
associated with degenerative disc disease. The procedures that can be performed include:
- artificial disc replacement (replacing damaged disc(s) with an artificial disc mad of rubber or similar materials)
- anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (removing the damaged part of the disc and fusing the corresponding vertebrae in order to limit pressure applied to the injured disc)
- kyphoplasty (repairing the damaged tissue)
- posterior lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF)
- fusing vertebrae in the lower area of the back)
- transforminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (TLIF)
- video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS) surgery involving a small camera that shows an enlarged image of the damaged area on a monitor in order for the surgeon to perform minute detailed work)
- minimally invasive spine surgery such as: laser surgery where a small incision is made and a laser is used to remove damaged disc tissue or to burn off damaged nerve endings in an effort to reduce felt pain.
Many patients can find relief without surgical intervention but many may still require surgery (Aging Changes in Lumbar Discs and Vertebrae and Their Interaction A 15-year Follow-up Study.2013). If you suffer with pain from degenerative disc disease, discuss with your physician what the best course of action would be for you to find relief.