What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is the gradual breakdown of the spinal discs due to the loss of water and protein content. This condition can affect the spine in several ways. Located between our spine’s vertebrae are discs that consist of a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus that surrounds a softer interior called the nucleus pulposus. Together, the discs act as shock absorbers for the spinal column, helping us withstand the daily stresses we place on our necks and backs. But over time these discs begin to lose height and elasticity, making them more susceptible to injury or disease. If the annulus fibrosus tears or ruptures, the nucleus can extend into the area surrounding the disc. This material may compress nerve roots, causing neck or back pain.

For most, degenerative disc disease is part of the natural aging process and doesn’t cause symptoms. However, degenerative disc disease can lead to conditions like herniated discs, bulging discs, spondylolisthesis, bone spurs and spinal stenosis, among others. If these conditions cause bone or soft tissue to compress nearby spinal nerves, painful local and radiating symptoms can occur.

Specific symptoms of degenerative disc disease

Possible symptoms of nerve compression caused by degenerative disc disease include:

  • Pain that remains localized at the site of nerve compression that may resemble cramping or throbbing.
  • Pain that travels from the site of compression through the extremities; this pain may feel burning or electric in nature.
  • A compressed nerve can cause a tingling, or pins-and-needles sensation, which radiates or stays stationary.
  • Prolonged compression that goes untreated can produce numbness or weakness in the muscles. In severe cases, patients could be at risk of muscle atrophy or even loss of movement.

Treatment options

If your primary care physician confirms a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, he or she should initially prescribe a course of conservative treatment. This treatment could include the use of pain medication, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, hot and cold compresses, periods of rest and lifestyle changes. A large number of patients successfully manage their symptoms nonsurgically, but some will require surgery for more severe symptoms.

If weeks or months of conservative treatments fail to produce lasting pain relief, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive spine surgery. We perform minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures to treat degenerative disc disease and other spine conditions. These outpatient procedures have less risk of complication and a shorter recovery period^ compared to traditional open spine surgery.

Reach out to us today to request a free review of your MRI or CT scan* to see if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.