How to define degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease is defined as damage that develops in a disc due to the natural breakdown (degeneration) of the spine.

This condition is commonly found in the lumbar spine (lower back) because this section of the spine is responsible for supporting the weight of the body as well as the body’s movement and range of motion. Because of this constant pressure, the discs in the spine can break down over the years, leading to the development of a degenerative disc disease.

The types of degenerative disc diseases include:

  • Herniated disc
  • Bulging disc
  • Disc protrusion
  • Annular tear
  • Spondylolisthesis

All of these conditions listed are associated with the breakdown of a spinal disc due to the wear and tear of the spine over several years.

Signs and symptoms of a degenerative disc disease

A damaged disc is not symptomatic on its own. In fact, many adults have experienced a mild version of degenerative disc disease and have never noticed it. Symptoms and pain only arise when a piece of the damaged disc presses against a nearby nerve root. When this happens, the following symptoms can occur:

  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness, numbness or tingling
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Limited mobility
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control (If this happens, seek immediate medical attention.)

The pain can actually travel along the entire nerve pathway and into the arms or legs. That is why a herniated disc in the lower back may cause pain and muscle weakness in the leg or foot.

Taking steps toward a treatment for degenerative disc disease

For many patients, the first step toward pain relief is to schedule an appointment with your physician to diagnose your condition. Once your condition is diagnosed, your physician can recommend several treatment options based on the cause, severity and location of your pain as well as your medical history and lifestyle.

The first round of treatment will often be conservative therapy, which includes any type of nonsurgical treatment option to reduce the pressure on the pinched nerve and block the pain signals from reaching your brain. These treatment methods include:

  • Pain medication
  • Chiropractic care
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle changes (weight loss and exercise)
  • Stretching and yoga

These conservative treatments are often effective in pain relief, though sometimes it takes several months before any lasting relief is experienced. If you’ve finished your regimen of conservative treatment and you are still in pain, Laser Spine Institute may be able to help you find relief through our minimally invasive spine surgery.

Often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open back surgery, our minimally invasive stabilization surgery can treat a degenerative disc by removing the disc and replacing it with an artificial disc and bone grafts. This allows our patients to maintain a more natural range of motion after surgery compared to the metal cage used during traditional spinal fusion. In some cases where the disc is not severely damaged, a small portion can be removed to reduce pressure on the nerve without having to stabilize the spine. This is called a decompression or discectomy surgery and is the most common method of treating a damaged disc in the spine.

For more information about our minimally invasive spine surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute today.