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Degenerative Disc Disease

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is characterized as a painful, and generally chronic, condition affecting the lower back (spine). It almost always worsens over time. Some degeneration of the spine is part of the aging process. Biochemical changes in the spine over time lead to some natural compression in the discs between vertebrae. Recent studies have shown degenerative disc disease in younger adults is associated with smoking and being overweight.

Common symptoms

Many people who have some degeneration have no painful symptoms. Others report considerable pain. The pain occurs in part because fluid can leak out of small tears or fractures in the discs so they no longer act as a cushion. When this happens symptoms include:

  • Pain and numbness, particularly in the legs and lower back
  • Cramping or weakness in the legs

How is degenerative disc disease diagnosed?

Diagnosis of degenerative disc disease is done through physical examination and diagnostic tests, which can include:

How is degenerative disc disease treated?

Treatment options vary widely, as each case is unique. Many patients benefit from physical therapy, and exercise can be helpful in maintaining mobility and managing pain.

Injections of steroids and/or pain medications between the affected vertebrae — often called "trigger point" injection — can relieve pain in some patients for several months at a time. Alternative therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and acupuncture, also help some patients manage the pain associated with degenerative disc disease. In some cases, surgical intervention and minimally invasive surgery is recommended to remove the affected discs.

The surgeons at REX Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can help you decide on the treatment that's best for you. They specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery and are experienced in diagnosing and treating disc disorders and disease, using the newest techniques for relieving pain and returning you to an active lifestyle. To make an appointment at REX Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, call 919-784-1410.