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How quickly does degenerative disc disease progress?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a spinal condition that usually progresses gradually. The cumulative effects of wear and tear — whether related to repetitive movement, trauma or natural aging — can take a toll on your spine over time. DDD may initially develop in just one spinal disc, but it can “spread” throughout your spine through a series of related events.

The pattern of degenerative disc disease progression

To better understand how degenerative disc disease develops, spreads and causes pain and other issues, it may be helpful to learn about the cause-and-effect pattern of spinal degeneration, which typically involves several steps. Bear in mind that:

  • The structure of your discs will continually change as you get older. Over time, your discs will naturally lose water content and become brittle, which can make them more prone to damage and rupture. A bulging or herniated disc can painfully pinch a nearby spinal nerve.
  • As your discs become dehydrated, they can shrink and lose height, which can render your spinal column unstable. Collapsed discs can also lose their effectiveness as cushioning shock absorbers between vertebrae.
  • As your discs become less effective at controlling the movement of your spine, your facet joints will be forced to compensate. As a result, these small joints can become pressured and overworked.
  • Within your overloaded facet joints, excess movement can cause the protective cartilage lining to break down and wear away, creating painful friction as bone-on-bone contact occurs.
  • In an attempt to stabilize your facet joints, your body may produce protective bony deposits (bone spurs). A common side effect of bone spurs is painful spinal nerve compression.

In sum, one damaged spinal disc can strain the vertebrae above and below it, creating pressure on the adjacent spinal discs, and vertebrae, and so on. As such, the pattern of DDD progresses.

Treatment for degenerative disc disease

Most adults have at least a minimal amount of spinal degeneration, which may or may not involve nerve compression. DDD treatment, which is intended to address the effects of nerve compression, can often be accomplished conservatively. However, for discomfort that persists after several weeks of nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be appropriate.

At USA Spine Care, our surgeons use minimally invasive surgical techniques to address degenerative disc disease on an outpatient basis. Contact us if you’d like more information. We can provide a free MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate.

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