When degenerative disc disease causes symptoms

Before looking at the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, it’s essential to understand what that term means. Degenerative disc disease is 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. But, the complications from the changes within the spine can be the source of more serious problems. For example, as the outer layer of a disc tears and the disc begins to bulge or its 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 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, including:

  • 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 provides 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 care, 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 performed by the board-certified surgeons+ at Laser Spine Institute offer a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery.^

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 minimally invasive procedures. We can provide a free MRI review* if you would like to find out whether you may be a candidate.