Degenerative disc disease — causes and treatment options

Degenerative disc disease describes the gradual deterioration of the discs found between the vertebrae of the spine. It is part of a group of conditions called degenerative spine conditions and describes the effects of time and body weight gain on the components of the spine. This condition could lead to symptoms of chronic pain and limited mobility, coupled with sharp pain during certain movements.

Degenerative disc disease of the spine can not only compromise the structural integrity of the neck and back, but the symptoms can be extremely painful and could lead to a decrease in quality of life. If you are experiencing symptoms in the neck or lower back of sharp, stabbing pain or chronic and aching pain, you should consult a physician to determine the cause of your symptoms. Degenerative disc disease usually begins gradually but can steadily increase in pain and damage if left untreated.

Causes of degenerative disc disease of the spine

Degenerative disc disease usually develops over time as the integrity of the spine begins to naturally deteriorate. Areas of the spine, such as the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (back), are responsible for supporting the head and body (respectively) and providing stabilization during movement and pivoting. Over time, as the body gains weight or repeats the same movements, the vertebrae of the spine begin to wear down and compress the discs found in between the vertebrae.

As the discs become squeezed and clamped under the pressure of the vertebrae, one of two things could happen. This first possibility is that the disc could flatten under the pressure and expand into the spinal canal, impacting a nerve root and causing pain. This is called a bulging disc. The other possibility is that the disc will begin to deteriorate under the pressure of the vertebrae. This is called degenerative disc disease.

Effects of degenerative disc disease of the spine

A deteriorated disc in the spine does not cause pain itself. However, when a disc degenerates, other spine conditions may develop. Because the discs in the spine play such a crucial role in stabilizing and cushioning the vertebrae of the spine, serious spine conditions and abnormalities can develop if one of these discs deteriorates and can no longer play a supporting role in the structure of the spine.

For example, if a disc in the spine deteriorates, the vertebra above the disc may move out of alignment and “slip” over top of the vertebra below it because the disc is not there to hold a space between the vertebrae. Or, the two vertebrae could rub together, causing the vertebrae to develop bone spurs that might jut out into the spinal canal and impact a nerve root. Whenever a component of the spine moves out of place, there is a risk of a nerve root in the spinal canal being compressed by the misalignment of the spine and causing chronic pain and discomfort.

Treatment options for degenerative disc disease of the spine

Many mild cases of degenerative disc disease can be effectively treated through conservative, non-surgical methods of treatment. These types of treatment include physical therapy, lifestyle changes and medication, as well as many other non-invasive options that your physician can help you research.

However, some more advanced forms of degenerative disc disease that have led to the development of other spine conditions may require a surgical treatment option. If you have tried several months of conservative therapy for your degenerative disc disease and have not found any lasting relief, we encourage you to research the surgical treatment options available to you.

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer a safer and effective approach to spine surgery than traditional open back surgery. Our minimally invasive surgery has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain and has earned a 96 patient satisfaction score^.

For more information about our minimally invasive procedures and the treatment options available to you, please contact our Care Team at Laser Spine Institute. We are here to help you find the best treatment option to relieve your chronic pain and symptoms so you can get back to the life you love.