Methods doctors use to make a degenerative disc disease diagnosis

A degenerative disc in the spine can cause symptoms of pain around the local area of the spine, as well as pain that radiates into the nearby extremities, such as the legs or arms.

The presence of pain and symptoms should be an indication to schedule an appointment with your physician to determine the source of your pain and find a treatment solution for pain relief. Before consulting your doctor, understanding the causes of a degenerative disc and what the diagnostic process is like can help you be more confident and engaged as a patient.

What to expect during a degenerative disc disease diagnosis

Degenerative disc disease is a condition describing the natural age-related breakdown of the spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae. Over time these discs begin to lose water and protein content, making them less elastic and less able to withstand the pressure placed on them from everyday movement. Degenerative disc disease can cause the discs to lose height, bulge or herniate and potentially lead to painful compression of the spine.

One of the first steps in diagnosing degenerative disc disease and other spine conditions is to have a conversation with your doctor about your symptoms, medical history and current lifestyle. These questions can help your doctor not only diagnose your condition, but also use the information to help you find the most appropriate treatment options for your specific symptoms and your lifestyle.

After this discussion, the diagnostic process may continue with the following tests:

  • A physical exam — may include a physical exam of the painful areas, as well as tests for range of motion
  • A neurological exam — may include tests of reflexes and muscle strength
  • An X-ray — performed primarily to rule out fractures but also can indicate areas where vertebrae have shifted due to disc degeneration
  • An MRI — magnetic resonance imagery provides images that have better contrast between the soft tissues of the body, compared to an X-ray
  • A CT scan — computerized tomography gives a more detailed view of the body’s interior through computer-generated X-rays that produce cross-sectional images of the body
  • Selective nerve root block (SNRB) injections — by numbing a spinal nerve that is thought to be causing pain, a doctor can confirm the source of symptoms if they are temporarily relieved by this injection.

After the diagnosis

If a degenerative disc disease diagnosis is confirmed, you and your doctor can work together to create a treatment plan. This often includes the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), exercise, stretching or epidural steroid injections.

If symptoms persist after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the benefits of minimally invasive outpatient procedures performed using outpatient techniques. We offer a safer and effective approach^ to spine surgery with our minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures.

To find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute and ask for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan.*