Despite what its name may imply, degenerative disc disease isn’t a disease at all. In fact, it’s a term used to describe the natural changes that take place in the discs of the spine as a result of aging, overuse and/or injuries. At New Jersey Neck & Back Institute (NJNBI), we take a multidisciplinary approach to treating degenerative disc disease to ensure you receive the best care possible. Contact us today to learn more.
What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
Spinal discs are essentially shock absorbers. They sit between the bones and the spine, providing height and allowing bending, flexion and twisting. Most importantly, they help the back remain flexible while resisting forces. As we age, the discs begin to shrink and lose integrity. But while nearly everyone will have some degree of degeneration on their spinal discs, not all those people will experience pain or disability.
So what causes degenerative disc disease? There are a few factors to consider. First, there’s the drying out of the disc. This happens with aging. Humans are born with discs containing approximately 80 percent water. As they age, the disc will begin to dry out. As a result, the discs won’t absorb shocks as well as they used to.
Wear and tear from daily activities and sports can also lead to degenerative disc disease. Certain activities can cause tears in the disc’s outer core. The third cause of degenerative disc disease involves injuries. Any impact to the back that results in swelling, soreness and instability can lead to the onset of degenerative disc disease.
Besides degenerative disc disease, changes in the discs can also result in conditions, such as:
Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms
Degeneration of the discs most often occurs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region). As a result, most symptoms are concentrated in the low back and neck, depending on where the degenerated discs are located. Common symptoms include:
- Numbness or tingling in the arm or leg
- Weakness in the arm or leg
- Foot drop
- Increased pain when bending, lifting or twisting
Patients with degenerative disc disease may also report pain in the affected area of the body. For instance, a damaged disc in the neck may result in neck and arm pain.
Diagnosing Degenerative Disc Disease
At NJNBI, Dr. Sandra LaRocca and his team will take a thorough medical history – including medicines and injuries – and ask about your symptoms. A physical examination will then be conducted to look for:
- Areas of tenderness
- Changes in reflexes
- Range of motion in the affected area and movement-induced pain
- Other conditions, such as tumors, fractures and infection
In most cases, a physical exam is all that’s needed to diagnose degenerative disc disease. However, if there’s a concern regarding a serious condition, diagnostic imaging may be used to rule out other diseases.
Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment
Backed by an extensive network of world-class physicians and staff, Dr. LaRocca creates personalized treatment plans for patients suffering from degenerative disc disease. Together with the help of pain management specialists, physiatrists, therapists and other specialists, Dr. LaRocca offers the following treatment options:
- Cortisone injections
- Ice, heat and other modalities
- Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Physical therapy and/or exercise
- Spinal fusion
To make an appointment at NJNBI, call us today at 609-896-0020. We have locations in Lawrenceville, Toms River and Mount Laurel, NJ to serve you better.