Degenerative disc disease is not a disease but rather a term used to describe the normal changes in the spinal discs over the course of time. Spinal discs are soft tissue between each of the vertebrae of the spine, giving it flexibility and stability. As we age, these soft discs deteriorate naturally, most often in the low back (lumbar region) and neck (cervical region).
What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?
Age-related changes typically cause degenerative disc disease and they may include:
- Loss of fluid: Fluid loss in the discs makes them less flexible. It also makes the discs thinner and narrows the space between vertebrae.
- Tears or cracks: Over time, tears or cracks may form in the outer exterior of the disc, allowing the soft center to leak through.
It is important to note that there is a higher risk of these changes occurring in patients who smoke, are obese or participate in intense manual labor. In addition, an acute injury to the disc leading to a herniation may also start the degeneration process.
Changes in the discs can also result in other conditions, including:
- Cervical spondylosis
- Cervical spondylotic myelopathy
- Herniated disc
- Osteoarthritis of the spine
- Spinal stenosis
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease vary from person to person and may include:
- Foot drop or weakness in the leg muscles
- Increased pain when bending, lifting or twisting
- Numbness or tingling
- Pain in the affected area of the body (e.g., a damaged disc in the neck may result in neck and arm pain)
How Is Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosed?
To determine a degenerative disc disease diagnosis, Dr. LaRocca will take a thorough medical history, including medications, injuries or illnesses and ask about symptoms the patient may be experiencing. Following that, a physical examination will be conducted to look for the following:
- Areas of tenderness
- Changes In reflexes
- Other conditions, such as tumors, fractures and infection
- Range of motion in the affected area and movement-induced pain
Unless there is a concern regarding a serious condition, diagnostic imaging may not be recommended to aid in the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease.
How Is Degenerative Disc Disease Treated?
With a world-class network of physicians and staff on hand working together, Dr. LaRocca (NJNBI) can create a customized treatment plan for individuals with degenerative disc disease, including:
- Cortisone injections
- Ice, heat and other modalities
- Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Physical therapy and/or exercise regimen
- Spinal fusion or arthroplasty