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Learn to recognize the signs of degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a relatively common condition that is characterized by a breakdown of the gel-filled spinal discs that separate and cushion the vertebrae. While DDD can affect any part of the spine, it frequently develops in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). That’s mainly because these areas are highly mobile and particularly susceptible to the effects of ongoing wear and tear and age-related degeneration. Over time, the discs can dry out and shrink, losing their effectiveness as spinal shock absorbers. This may or may not cause painful symptoms.

Some signs to pay attention to

When DDD does cause symptoms, one telltale sign is pain at the site of a damaged disc. If you’re wondering whether you have degenerative disc disease, you may be experiencing neck or back pain that either persists or occasionally flares.

Another less obvious sign that is not as readily associated with DDD is referred pain, or pain that is felt in an area of the body other than its source. This can occur because the nerve roots that branch away from the spinal cord travel to various parts of the body. If a damaged disc presses on any of this sensitive nerve tissue, such as the sciatic nerve in the lower back (which travels down the backs of both legs), symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness and weakness may be felt in the extremities.

Regardless of where the discomfort is felt, degenerative disc disease often causes distinct pain patterns, including:

  • Pain that worsens when bending, twisting, lifting or sitting for extended periods of time
  • Pain that improves when running or walking
  • Pain that improves with frequent changes in body position
  • Pain that improves when lying down

See a physician

If you suspect that you have degenerative disc disease, it’s important to see a physician who can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment. Even though disc degeneration cannot be reversed, many people are able to manage their pain and enhance their quality of life with conservative treatments like exercise and over-the-counter medications.

Additionally, while surgery is generally viewed as a last-resort treatment for degenerative disc disease, it can be beneficial for certain patients who are unable to find the relief they need with nonsurgical approaches. The surgeons at USA Spine Care perform several minimally invasive spine procedures designed to address spinal degeneration when necessary. If you’re considering surgery and reviewing your options, you may want to contact us to find out if you’re a candidate for one of our minimally invasive outpatient procedures.

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