What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is the gradual breakdown of the spinal discs due to the loss of disc water, height and elasticity. Degenerative disc disease 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 soft, spongy jellylike interior called the nucleus pulposus. Together, discs behave as shock absorbers for the spinal column, helping us withstand the daily stresses we place on our necks and backs. However, as we age, the cushioning discs lose their fluid content and elasticity, making them weak and 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.

In the majority of patients, the disease is a component 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 radiating symptoms can occur.

Symptom details

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

  • Pain that remains localized at the site of neural compression; the pain 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.

Minimally invasive alternatives

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 painkillers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, hot and cold compresses, intermittent rest or behavior modification. Most 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 fewer risks and much shorter recuperative periods^ than traditional open spine surgery. Contact us today to request a review of your MRI report or CT scan to see if you are a potential candidate.