FAQ’s on Degenerative Disc Disease
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
The first item to understand about degenerative disc disease (DDD) is that it is not a bacterial or viral disease. Instead, DDD is a term used to define the changes a patient will experience in the discs of the spine as a result of the aging process. A spinal disc is a soft tissue structure located between each set of spinal vertebrae, and works as a cushion for the spine during periods of movement. Discs serve to provide the spine its functionality, creating the full range of motion and flexibility patients use daily.
DDD can occur at any level of the spine, but is found most commonly in either the discs of the lower back (lumber disc degeneration) or the discs in the neck (cervical disc degeneration).
What causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
For the vast majority of patients, DDD is a result of general degradation due to age. Over time, the fluid contained inside of a disc is general lost which can reduce the capabilities of a disc. As a disc loses fluid, it begins to narrow in size which leads to a smaller amount of space in-between each vertebra. Reduced intervertebral space can result in bone grinding against bone and may cause bone spurs (jutting fragments of bone) to form, which can damage or compress surrounding tissues.
Another cause of DDD is a disc that has suffered damage directly. The lining of the disc can be torn or cracked, accelerating fluid loss in the disc. Damaged discs are described as a disc that is either bulging (swollen), ruptured, or herniated (torn lining). Each of these three forms of damage may result in back pain in the patient, and can affect surrounding tissues through compression.
The symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
The most prominent symptom experienced with DDD is pain, which will vary in severity and location based on which disc of the spine is affected. Pain can range from unnoticeable (it is possible to have disc damage and experience no symptoms of pain) to a debilitating pain requiring emergency medical attention.
Studies have shown that 30% of individuals over the age of 30 have evidence of DDD on MRI, but no back pain whatsoever. So the presence of DDD does not mean a person will have pain.
Discs located in the lumbar region of the spine may produce secondary symptoms (such as numbness or a pins and needles feeling) in the buttocks or legs due to nerve compression. Cervical discs can produce secondary side effects in the arms, shoulders, and neck. Cervical disc damage may also produce episodic headaches and inhibit movement of the head.
Pain is experienced one of two ways with DDD: as a sudden onset of pain (normally resulting from direct spinal injury) or as a gradual feeling that worsens with time (age-related degeneration of the disc).
How is Degenerative Disc Disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis for DDD is achieved through physical examination of the patient based on their medical history and the symptoms presented. A range of motion test will be performed for the patient, as well as a search for tender areas of muscle (which can indicate nerve compression). If the damage disc cannot be located through a physical examination, imaging techniques ( X-ray, MRI, and CT) will be used to search for damage.
Patients may also receive a discogram, which is the insertion of fluid into a potentially pain causing disc. If the fluid causes a sensation of pain equal to the symptoms reported by the patient, it can be concluded the disc in question is the symptomatic source.
Treatment options for Degenerative Disc Disease
Treatment will be based on the severity and location of the injured disc. For minor DDD, treatment can be as easy as painkillers and ice/heat (whichever works) applied to the area. Spinal decompression therapy, physical therapy or chiropractic therapy can provide relief for moderate to severe cases.
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) combined with arthritic damage may be treated through:
With nonoperative treatment, over 75% of patients are able to achieve a satisfactory level of baseline pain. With spinal fusion or artificial disc replacement often resulting in suboptimal outcomes for degenerative disc disease, it is often best to participate in conservative treatments with Denver pain management doctors.
Colorado Pain offers top pain clinics in Denver for back pain relief. There are several locations accepting over 50 insurances including PPO’s, some HMO’s, Medicare, Medicaid, Workers Compensation, Personal Injury and self pay.
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