Degenerative discs are a frequent source of neck and back pain in many patients. As the name indicates, this condition is degenerative – that is, it occurs over time – and is a common side-effect of the natural aging process. Also known as spondylosis, degenerative discs are a type of osteoarthritis that affects the soft, shock-absorbing discs that rest between each vertebra. As we age, these discs become weaker and more fragile, mainly due to a change in the protein and water content of the discs. As this happens, the risk for disc bulging, herniation and thinning is exacerbated.
The presence of degenerative discs isn’t necessarily symptomatic. Eventually, everyone’s spinal anatomy will change due to regular wear and tear, and disc degeneration is unavoidable. Problems arise when inflammation and nerve compression occur as a result of the breakdown. If a disc becomes herniated and extrudes into the spinal column, for example, it can pinch or irritate the nearby nerves. Or, a thinning disc can become fragmented, allowing pieces to break off and irritate nerve tissue in the spinal column, as is often the case with foraminal stenosis.
When disc degeneration occurs, the patient can experience sometimes life-altering symptoms, which may include:
- Intense, local back or neck pain
- Traveling pain along the nerve
- Muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling of the extremities
- The sensation of pins and needles
- Stiffness or a loss of mobility and flexibility
- Bone spur growth
The prognosis for a patient with degenerative discs is good, in most cases. After the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease has been confirmed through medical imagery, a physician will typically try to manage the symptoms conservatively. These treatments can range from physical therapy and exercise to bed rest and the application of heat or ice. A physician may also recommend pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication or injections. In the event that non-surgical treatment does not deliver the results the patient requires, or if symptoms are extreme, a physician may recommend a surgical option.
If this is the case, patients with degenerative discs have typically been relegated to open back surgery and a long period of postoperative recovery. However, there is an alternative. At Laser Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery. With our advanced techniques, our surgeons are able to treat a variety of neck and back ailments with less pain, recovery time and cost of traditional open back surgery. To learn more about how minimally invasive spine surgery can be used to address degenerative discs, and to receive a review of your MRI or CT scan, contact Laser Spine Institute today.