Degenerative Disc Disease FAQ | Frequently Asked Questions

If you’ve been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, you may feel unsure of what this diagnosis means for you. Starting off with some basic information about your diagnosis can be helpful. In this FAQ, Laser Spine Institute answers some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive from our patients with degenerative disc disease.

Q. What is degenerative disc disease?

A. Degenerative disc disease isn’t so much a “disease” as it is a natural deterioration that occurs with age. As people get older, their cartilage loses some of its water and protein content, and their intervertebral discs lose height and become more delicate. This ongoing deterioration is known as degenerative disc disease or DDD.

Q. What causes degenerative disc disease?

A. For most patients, degenerative disc disease is simply the result of getting older. Often, it starts with small tears in a disc’s outer rim, which makes the rim less capable of containing the gelatinous central core. This can then make the outer containment wall sag, bulge or collapse. When this process is underway, genetics, trauma and excess body weight can contribute to someone’s discs degenerating more quickly than what would usually be expected.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. Degenerative disc disease doesn’t always cause symptoms. The condition is typically only symptomatic if the degenerated disc starts to press up against a nerve root or the spinal cord. If that occurs, patients may experience neck or back pain, pain that radiates into their arms or legs or numbness and tingling in their extremities.

Q. What are some treatment options?

A. Most degenerative disc disease treatments work to address the patient’s symptoms, as degenerative changes cannot be cured. Physicians may recommend medications for the pain, exercises to strengthen the spine and physical therapy to help increase the patient’s range of motion. Patients may also obtain relief from alternative treatments, such as chiropractic care or acupuncture.

*Q. Will I need surgery? *

A. If conservative treatments are successful at treating your symptoms, you may not need surgery for your degenerative disc disease. Most patients are able to find a significant amount of relief from the above methods and do not require surgical intervention. However, a small number of patients (often those with advanced DDD) may need to consider an operation for more meaningful long-term relief.