Degenerative disc disease diagnosis

Degenerative disc disease is a term for the natural breakdown of the spinal discs due to the natural aging process.

While this condition sometimes does not result in symptoms, they may appear if the damaged disc puts pressure on a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord. These symptoms can cause severe and chronic pain. If this pain becomes intolerable and does not respond to at-home treatment, a patient will seek a medical professional to diagnose the condition and make treatment recommendations.

How a degenerative disc disease diagnosis is made

Because disc degeneration can involve many related spine conditions, like a herniated or bulging disc, it is important to have your physician perform a thorough evaluation to make an accurate diagnosis. To positively make a degenerative disc disease diagnosis, doctors may use some or all of the following diagnostic tools and methods:

  • Medical history. The physician will ask when the pain and other symptoms started, what they feel like, and what activities or positions make symptoms better or worse.
  • Physical exam. This can include a hands-on examination of painful areas, as well as range-of-motion tests.
  • Neurological exam. This may include tests of muscle strength and reflexes.
  • X-ray. This is performed mainly to rule out fractures.
  • MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging provides the physician a clear view of the interior of the body, with more detail than an X-ray, showing the extent of disc collapse and cartilage deterioration.
  • CT scan. Computed tomography also is a way to give physicians a more detailed view of the body’s interior.
  • Selective nerve root block (SNRB) and diagnostic dye injections. These can be used to find the precise location of nerve compression in the spine.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor can help you find a treatment option to help relieve your symptoms, or refer you to a spine care specialist for further assistance.

Treatment options for disc deterioration

Many patients can manage the symptoms associated with a degenerative disc disease through a course of conservative treatments. These options may include physical therapy sessions, applying heat and/or ice packs to the neck or back, and taking over-the-counter medications. Epidural steroid injections can also relieve pain and inflammation for an intermediate period of time, while the progress of the condition is monitored.

However, if symptoms continue after several weeks or months of pursuing conservative treatments, surgery may become an option.

At Laser Spine Institute, we perform a minimally invasive discectomy procedure that helps relieve pressure on a compressed nerve by removing a small portion of the damaged disc. In some cases, our surgeons may recommend that you undergo a minimally invasive discectomy and stabilization, which is our outpatient alternative to traditional open spine fusion.

Our minimally invasive procedures are performed through a small incision that helps to spare surrounding muscles and ligaments, unlike traditional open back surgery that is more disruptive. The minimally invasive techniques used during our procedures make Laser Spine Institute a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery.^ Contact us today to learn more.

We’ll be happy to help you receive a free MRI or CT scan review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.