How do doctors diagnose degenerative disc disease?

Patients often receive a degenerative disc disease diagnosis after seeing their doctor to help identify the source of neck pain, back pain or symptoms like tingling or numbness in the extremities. To reach this diagnosis, a physician must complete a thorough physical examination. There are a number of possible causes of chronic neck and back pain, including muscle strains, bone spurs, spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis and other conditions that have similar symptoms to degenerative disc disease. This is why if you are suffering from pain and other symptoms, it is so important to visit with your physician to obtain an accurate diagnosis and learn about the best available treatment methods for your specific condition and needs.

Reviewing medical history

The first step toward obtaining a degenerative disc disease diagnosis is a review of your medical history. During this review, your doctor will try to identify whether there are any factors that may be putting you at a higher risk for certain conditions. He or she will also try to determine if there is a family history of back pain or degenerative spine conditions by asking questions about your immediate relatives as well.

Next, you should probably expect to have an in-depth discussion about the nature of the pain or other symptoms you’re experiencing. Some questions the physician may ask include:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Are they better or worse at any particular time of day?
  • Have treatments that you have attempted made any difference?
  • Do any specific seating positions or movements worsen symptoms?
  • Describe the severity of your pain or other symptoms.
  • Do you feel tingling or numbness near your extremities?

The basic goal of this question-and-answer session is for your doctor to learn everything he or she can about your condition. Even the most seemingly minor details may be essential to obtaining a degenerative disc disease diagnosis or a diagnosis for another condition.

Examination

Your doctor will also need to conduct a complete physical examination to identify the location of problem areas and test your range of motion. This process can often be uncomfortable when pressure is being applied to sensitive areas like the muscles around the spinal column, but it is an essential step in finding the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Medical imagery and treatment

The last part of the degenerative disc disease diagnosis process may require a medical imaging scan to confirm the diagnosis and ensure that another underlying issue, like a tumor or fracture, isn’t causing your pain. Common methods include X-ray, CT scan or an MRI.

Upon diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, most doctors will recommend a course of conservative treatment options like medication, rest and physical therapy to manage pain and improve mobility. Surgery may become an option if symptoms don’t improve after exhausting these and other treatments, but many patients are anxious about undergoing highly invasive traditional open spine surgery.

Laser Spine Institute offers an alternative to traditional procedures with minimally invasive spine surgery. Our board-certified surgeons+ use a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine, allowing for an outpatient procedure that offers our patients many benefits.

To learn more, reach out to our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today. We can review your MRI or CT scan at no cost* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.