Nonexistent, mild, moderate and severe symptoms
Before looking at the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, it’s essential to understand what that term means. Degenerative disc disease is actually a misnomer; the condition isn’t truly a disease, but rather a result of the natural aging process. It basically refers to the normal wearing down of the discs between our vertebrae that occurs as we grow older. These discs cushion parts of the spine during everyday activities, acting as shock absorbers for years. The stress placed upon a disc forces its gelatinous core against its hard outer layer, and the elasticity of the outer layer then pushes the core material back into place. As we age, this elasticity wanes, leading to small tears in the discs, and eventually to the issues associated with degenerative disc disease.
What are the symptoms?
Degenerative disc disease doesn’t always produce symptoms by itself, and when it does, these symptoms are often described as minor neck or back pain. The complications from the changes within the spine are the source of more serious problems. For example, as the outer layer of a disc tears and the disc begins to bulge or core material leaks out, the loss of height within the disc can narrow the spaces through which spinal nerves travel, or even reduce the diameter of the intervertebral foramen, where the spinal nerve roots are located. A bulging or herniated disc can then pinch the spinal cord or one of its nerve roots causing the painful symptoms that are disrupting your life.
With these consequences, degenerative disc disease can lead to the following painful symptoms:
- Neck or back pain, ranging from mild to severe, that travels to the extremities
- Numbness or tingling in the shoulders and arms (cervical spine)
- Pain in the rib cage (thoracic spine)
- Numbness in the legs (lumbar spine)
What are the possible treatments?
You might find that lying down removes the stress placed on the back and providing some immediate pain relief. This is only a temporary fix, however, and you will need to seek medical attention for a lasting solution. Conservative treatments include a combination of physical therapy, exercises, medicine and rest. Additionally, some patients find relief through alternative treatments, including chiropractic measures, acupuncture and herbal remedies. You should always develop any treatment plan with the help of a doctor.
Although these treatments often provide relief, some patients don’t respond to them. In these cases, surgery may be recommended, but it’s important to weigh all available treatment options before making a decision. In addition to the open spine surgical procedures that are available, there are also minimally invasive options, such as the ones performed at Laser Spine Institute. The minimally invasive, outpatient procedures perfected by the skilled surgeons at Laser Spine Institute are often the clinically appropriate first choice for addressing degenerative spine conditions compared to open back surgery. Minimally invasive techniques provide patients with many advantages over traditional open spine surgery, which require large incisions and muscle disruption, which provides surgeons with sufficient access to the spine.
If you are experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of degenerative disc disease and are recommended for surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about our innovative, minimally invasive procedures and how you may be a candidate. If you have been told that spinal fusion surgery is the best course of action for you, our minimally invasive stabilization procedures are a more precise option worth considering.